Location of Clifford
Pre-Norman Clifford (4000BC - 1066AD)
Mediaeval Clifford (1066-1538AD)
Bibliographical note: Written
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.
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.
Clifford may appear a typical Herefordshire parish, but its rural calm belies a history of war, faith and trade.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
‘A land of bloodshed and lawlessness’
Pre-Conquest Clifford (4000BC – 1066AD)
Neolithic remains – Roman conquest – Saxon conquest – Welsh presence
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 occupied from the Neolithic era until the present day. In its early days it was unenclosed, uncultivated and heavily wooded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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
Following William FitzOsbern’s death, Clifford Castle changed hands many times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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)
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
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
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
Clifford as a market centre
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.
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”.
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
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
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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