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About Clifford
Location of Clifford
Pre-Norman Clifford (4000BC - 1066AD)
Mediaeval Clifford (1066-1538AD)
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Bibliographical noteWritten records about Herefordshire - still the UK's most rural county - are relatively scarce. Saxon manorial records stored in Hereford Cathedral were destroyed by by Welsh marauders during the 11th century. Some mediaeval documentary records are currently stored at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, though these require translation from the old English and Latin script.

The text on these pages is adapted from Clifford's Parish Plan, edited by Oliver Bullough and researched by Dave Prescott with the support of Mary Morgan, Will Bullough and Gordon Rye. A full list of sources appears at the end of these pages.    

About Clifford
Clifford may appear a typical Herefordshire parish, but its rural calm belies a history of war, faith and trade.

Huddled around its castle on a cliff above the river Wye, this village has in the past played host to both the Romans and the great English lords as they strove to subdue the independent Celtic tribes of the uplands.

Monks owing allegiance to the monastery in Cluny, Europe’s richest monastic order in early mediaeval times, lived tucked away from the main river valley in Clifford Priory.

Later on the ford that gives Clifford the other half of its name made it a stage on the drovers’ routes that linked Wales to the livestock markets in London and elsewhere.

Bordered on two sides by the Wye, which is one of the country’s largest and most beautiful rivers, the parish contains hills, commons, and areas of rich agricultural land. It is possible to see five counties from the top of one of the hills (Merbach – which at over 1000 feet is technically a mountain).

Clifford has had its moment in the national spotlight. In one historian’s phrase it was “the birthplace and early home of one of the most beautiful women the world has ever seen”, of whom more below.


Location of Clifford
Clifford lies in the bend of the River Wye between Hay-on-Wye and Bredwardine, and is located mainly on and around a headland looking over the river.  
The parish boundary extends for 27 kilometres (km) and encompasses a diamond shaped area of 253sq. km (for comparison, the city of Hereford covers 20sq. km). There are 48km of public roads and 71km of bridleways and public footpaths.

Two disused railway lines straddle the parish. The river Wye, fed by numerous streams, forms much of the northern boundary. A toll bridge crosses the Wye on the Whitney road, and a small nature reserve is situated adjacent to the river by Clifford village.

clifford map
This map was drawn by Alison Alcock.

A - St Mary's Church
B - Holy Trinity Church
C - Priory Farm and site of Clifford Priory
D - Clifford Primary School and Community Centre
E - Clifford Castle
F - Toll bridge
G - Middlewood
H - Westbrook
I - Castleton
J - Archenfield
K - Pen-y-Parc
L - Summerhill golf course


‘A land of bloodshed and lawlessness’
Pre-Conquest Clifford (4000BC – 1066AD)

Neolithic remains – Roman conquest – Saxon conquest – Welsh presence

The area now known as Clifford has been settled for at least six thousand years, and is home to two known Neolithic burial chambers (dating to c.4000BC), one on Little Mountain and one near Bullens Bank above Archenfield. The area has probably been occupi
ed from the Neolithic era until the present day. In its early days it was unenclosed, uncultivated and heavily wooded.

The Romans appreciated the value of the Wye valley as a route into the uplands of what is now Wales, where they battled in the first century to quell resistance from tribes under the legendary British leader Caratacus. A 6.5-hectare camp was built in Clifford and the ditches of a larger fortified Roman camp are still clearly visible in Boatside, on the other side of the river. A Roman road led along the Wye to another, larger camp outside Hereford.

The Romans may also have built some kind of settlement near the site of Clifford castle. In 1929, the then-owner of the castle Dr Oscar Trumper discovered a Roman brooch, a wild boar’s tusk and part of a wolf’s backbone during an excavation.

The Romans brought peace and civilisation to Britain, and on their departure in the 5th century, under pressure from the Germanic invaders who were to become the English, the land was plunged into a period of ‘bloodshed and lawlessness’ (in Rev. Trumper’s phrase) popularly known as the dark ages.

In Herefordshire this age was darker than in most places and was the frontline between the aggressive Saxon invaders of the east and the resisting British tribes, now beginning to be called the Welsh.

In the 8th century the Saxon King Offa of Mercia built his famous dyke to defend his gains from the Welsh. A law was passed in the 9th century punishing every Welshman found with weapons on the east of the dyke with the loss of his right hand. At that time, Clifford was still deep in the Welsh kingdom of Powys and the dyke meets the Wye 15 miles to the east of the parish.

Sadly, all of the Saxon records relating to Herefordshire were destroyed when Welsh raiders burned Hereford cathedral in the 11th century. Any attempt to recreate what life was like for those 500 or so years is therefore speculative at best.

In the absence of written records we turn to place names for clues and they show that the Welsh influence in Clifford remained strong. Until the conquering Normans compiled the Domesday Book in 1086, Clifford was known as Llanfair-ar-y-bryn (St Mary on the Hill) and Llanfair-yn-y-cwm (St Mary in the Valley).

The first reference to the name Clifford, which probably derives from the twinned geographical features of a cliff by a ford, appears in the Domesday Book itself. As late as 1615 the name Llanfair-ar-y-bryn was used in a deed instead of Clifford. The farm below the church is still called Llanfair, suggesting a Welsh presence in the parish long after the marcher lords expanded their holdings up the Wye valley to Clifford.

This stone in one of Lower Court farm’s outbuildings is believed to date from Saxon times. The picture comes from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, 1929

One part of Clifford, which is still called Archenfield, also holds a clue to the region’s past. Its name harks back to a now-vanished area of Herefordshire known in Welsh as Ergyng. This wedge of land south of the Wye retained Welsh laws and customs even after they were eradicated in Wales itself. Few traces of it now remain, although Welsh place names are still scattered across the countryside south of Hereford. The last legal trace ended in 1911 when the rights of local residents to fish a seven-mile stretch of the river Wye were abolished. Local myth holds that no snakes are to be found within the limits of Archenfield, although at least one local resident claims to have seen one there.


Rise and fall
Mediaeval Clifford: 1066 – 1538

Clifford is named – Clifford Castle – Clifford Priory – wooden effigy – Fair Rosamund – the Clifford family – John Giffard – Clifford as a market centre – Clifford’s collapse

Clifford is named

At the time of the Norman conquest, the fertile Herefordshire plain was one of the most valuable and dangerously situated of all the English acquisitions on the Welsh border. William the Conqueror despatched one of his most trusted and able lieutenants, William FitzOsbern (also the first Earl of Hereford), to keep peace in the area.  He built Clifford Castle as part of a line of defensive positions, which served to hold the area for these ‘Marcher’ lords, and formed bases for the future conquest of the Welsh. The Castle was built near a ford in the river on the Devonian red sandstone cliff that gave it its name. It had a good view over the major river crossing point that had been used by the Romans.

Other major castles were built at Wigmore, Ewyas Harold, Monmouth and Chepstow -- all strategic sites along what is now the border between England and Wales – from 1067 to 1070. The Normans were following the same defensive lines that the Romans had built against the British tribes a millennium earlier.

Remains of another castle (a simple motte and bailey) survive at Castleton further down the river Wye. Its provenance is little known, although it may have been part of a line of crude forts built to supplement the defensive might of the castles in Clifford and Hay. It was not mentioned as a manor in the Domesday Book, so it was probably of later construction and built to guard a ford across the river, as did the main castle.

Between Middlewood and Bach is another motte and bailey castle at Newton. The angular layout of the bailey points to a late date for its foundation and there are indications of the bailey having been defended by stone walls.

The name Clifford first appears in the Domesday survey of 1086, when the conquering Normans also gave names, in French or English, to many other towns and places. For example, they may have called the nearby valley of the River Dore “golden”, when they misheard the Welsh word “dwr” (water) as “d’or” (golden). They bestowed a French name on Hay (La Haie), but Clifford was named in English. Perhaps they were unable to twist the names Llanfair-ar-y-bryn and Llanfair-yn-y-cwm into anything Gallic.

The Domesday Book also mentions Middlewood and Harewood:
These lands in valle Stradlie lie on the northern boundary of Dorstone, but mostly in the parish of Clifford. They were held by Gilbert the son of Turold.
At Middlewood (Midwede) were 2 hides. Earl Harold held it.
At Harewood (Harewde), now represented by Hardwick, where there is still a wood bearing the name, were four hides.

Clifford Castle

In order to attract settlers from Normandy, FitzOsbern established a code of laws and customs based on privileges in his hometown of Breteuil in Normandy. People of French birth who settled in the border towns as burgesses were entitled to live under “the customs of Hereford and of Breteuil”.
Following William FitzOsbern’s death, Clifford Castle changed hands many times.

castle 1
Artist’s impression of Clifford Castle at the time of construction. This picture was commissioned by former owner of Clifford Castle, Betty Parkinson, and now belongs to current owner Paul Rumph. Visits to the castle are occasionally allowed: please contact the website manager for details.

FitzOsbern’s son, Roger de Breteuil, rebelled against William II (‘Rufus’) and in 1075 forfeited all his lands, including Clifford. The lands were granted to Ralph III de Tosny of Normandy, who was a cousin of William I and brother-in-law of William FitzOsbern. Ralph de Tosny held Clifford at the time of the Domesday survey (1086), and among his tenants was Dru FitzPons whose nephew Walter married Margaret de Tosny, Ralph’s daughter, and received Clifford castle by this marriage.

Walter took the name of ‘de Clifford’ in about 1127 and was the head of a family often to be found fighting in France or in Scotland, a family whose boast it was that “of half a score of successive barons only one had been unhappy enough to die in his bed”.

Walter’s brother Simon FitzRichard was of a more peaceful disposition, and founded Clifford’s Cluniac Priory in 1129-30. 

The priory is believed to have been quite a small cell, possibly subordinate to Lewes in Sussex. A farmhouse of the same name still stands below St Mary’s church, which was presumably built by the monks as a parish church.  The priory seems to have provided the Rector for the church from its own members.

It was part of the Cluniac order, which was founded in Cluny, France, in the tenth century and diverged from the original Rule of St Benedict, drawn up five centuries before, in that all its houses were part of the whole Order with the one Abbot at its head. Thus, unlike Benedictine houses, the prior was head of his community instead of second-in-command to an abbot. He was in turn responsible to the abbot of the ‘mother’ house.

The priory owned much of the farmland in the present-day parish, and the main building itself was well situated by a brook. The monks ate mutton, beef and poultry, as well as fish from their well-stocked fishponds. This impression of luxury, however, is offset by the constant threat from Welsh raiders. A wooden effigy can still be seen in St Mary’s Church that is said to commemorate a monk who died defending the Priory’s food stocks from the marauders. 


The wooden effigy in the recess on the north side of the chancel of St Mary’s church is one of the earliest in the country, and may date from the late 1200s.  It is of a priest in Eucharistic vestments, and there are only about a hundred of these medieval wooden monuments left in Britain. The only other one in Herefordshire is at Much Marcle where the carving retains its original bright paintwork. Only tiny remnants of colour remain on the Clifford example.

Photo: Will Bullough

There is a legend that the effigy was brought to the church for preservation when the monasteries were dissolved in the 16th century. Another legend states that it was carried in procession round the church on the founder's day. A third legend holds that it was always carried into the church before funeral processions.

It was mounted in its present position in 1892 after restoration.  It is 6ft. 4ins. in length, 19ins. wide at the shoulder and 18 ins. at the feet.  It must have been carved from a fine oak tree and well seasoned.  The effigy is still in a good state of preservation, only one side of the cushion and part of the slab being missing.  At some time it was exposed to damp, probably from lying on a wet floor. 
Fair Rosamund

Walter de Clifford’s daughter Joan was ‘one of the most beautiful women the world has ever seen’ (according to local historian Rev. Walwyn Trumper writing in1889) and was nicknamed the ‘fair rose of the world’, or Fair Rosamund. At this point we can hand over to Rev. Trumper, whose colourful descriptions are worth reproducing intact:

We may picture King Henry II coming to Clifford Town to hunt, and no doubt the Lord of the Castle found him magnificent sport, to say nothing of the society of his bewitching daughter…what a contrast she must have offered to the grand artificial ladies of the Court, who of course wore high shoes, dyed their hair, tight-laced, and painted their faces, like the silly fashionable women of our own or any other age…And can we blame fair Joan for liking the boisterous stranger, with his athletic form and handsome face?  And besides he was a king…(Trumper, 1889)

Fairly soon Henry II whisked Rosamund off to his home in Woodstock, where allegedly he was so frightened that his wife would discover his mistress that he had a huge maze built and installed Rosamund in the middle. However this was not enough to keep the queen away. We can only imagine what happened next. After her death she was buried in the nunnery of Godstow. Her story has inspired poets and artists ever since.

The Clifford family

Walter’s son, also called Walter, was a man of even more power and influence than his father. In the mid-13th century the family had holdings across the Marches (in Dorstone, Nantglas, Llandovery and Rochford) and across the southern part of England to Whitstable in Kent. In Clifford itself, the family owned a deer park and hunting ground extending right across the parish. It included the fields known as ‘Lodge Wood’ and ‘Lodge Park’ (near Castleton), and those of Pen-y-Park’ and ‘St Anthony’s Park’ (near modern-day Clifford Primary School). The grounds extended along the bank of the Wye (which then ran with a much straighter course), towards Merbach Hill.

The second Walter rebelled against King Henry III in 1233, forfeiting his lands for a year. His grand-daughter Maud was the last Clifford heiress. She married her first cousin, William de Longue-Epee (longsword), great-grandson of Fair Rosamund. William de Longue-Epee was killed in a tournament at Blythe. Maud’s second husband was the violent John Giffard of Brimsfield, who carried her off, and obtained the King’s permission to marry her. 

John Giffard

Giffard was a man of some power. At his death he was 27th in line to the throne, and he had obtained Brunles Castle (Bronllys), the Manor of Glasbury, as well as the Manor and Castle of Clifford. He was active in the barons’ wars of the 13th century. He opposed Simon de Montford, and assisted Prince Edward (later Edward I) to escape from Hereford. He also, with the help of Edmund Mortimer and Sir Ely Walwyn, defeated and killed Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales, effectively ending Welsh independence.

Giffard was given a licence to hunt wolves in the year 1280. When excavations were undertaken to build the railway through Clifford in the 19th century, a huge pile of wolves’ bones were found, although it is not known if they were all down to Giffard’s efforts.

When Giffard died, Clifford castle passed indirectly to the earldom of Lincoln, and then to the Mortimer family of Wigmore, out of the Clifford family. This marked the beginning of the decline of Clifford as a place of national significance.

Clifford as a market centre

Between the 11th and 13th centuries Clifford was a local trading centre of some importance. Before the Norman Conquest, the threat of Welsh onslaughts, such as those of 1052 and 1055, hindered the full exploitation of the rich countryside and the development of trade.

However the gradual conquest of the Welsh, and the establishment of the Marcher lordships in places such as Clifford, meant that Herefordshire’s agriculture and commerce were able to flourish. According to a former Woolhope Club historian, “the early 12th century is the age of economic growth and borough foundation par excellence in Herefordshire”.

Herefordshire Council’s archaeological team plans to determine the extent of mediaeval Clifford in a survey due to start in late 2008. Existing archaeological evidence shows a deserted village at Castleton, and suggests an extensive settlement, including a street system, at the bottom of the hill around the castle.

Clifford had collapsed as a local centre by the 15th century, and most traces of its pomp have vanished, but its inclusion on the earliest known map of Britain testifies to its lost importance.

The ‘Gough Map’, named after the man who discovered it in the 18th century, dates back to the 1350s and shows forest cover, roads, and the site of castles (including Clifford). The only other local towns that seem to appear on the map (place names can be hard to discern) are Clyro, Painscastle, Wigmore and Hereford. Hay does not appear, suggesting that its rise to local prominence occurred some time after the 14th century.
The destruction of Clifford

Following the departure of the Clifford family from the castle, Clifford’s decline set in rapidly. The Black Death of 1349 devastated the local population, and without labour there was little surplus produce to support a market. Flocks and herds wandered about at will, and the whole pattern of farming changed. It is estimated that one-third to a half of the local population died.

Meanwhile, without a well-armed castle to defend itself, Clifford was at the mercy of the inhabitants of neighbouring towns. On one occasion the men of Hay destroyed over 200 houses in Clifford. Clifford’s ruinous state has also been blamed on the attacks of Owain Glyn Dwr, who had proclaimed himself Prince of Wales in 1400 and defeated English forces at Pilleth in Radnorshire and elsewhere in the early 15th century. It is debatable whether he ever attacked Clifford (the castle was reinforced around this time), but the instability certainly helped to hasten the village’s decline.

castle 2

View of Clifford Castle during the late 19th Century.  This picture is taken from ‘The River Wye: A Pictorial History’ and reproduced here with kind permission of the book’s author, Josephine Jeremiah


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