news services social gallery church environment home

Stirrings still

Modern Clifford: 1536-present

Dissolution of Clifford Priory – redistribution of land – the civil war – the drovers – crossing the Wye – Clifford Primary School – St Mary’s Church – the creation of Hardwicke – Holy Trinity, Hardwicke – Thomas William Webb – the railways – Francis Kilvert – Clifford today
Little is recorded of Clifford during this time until King Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries in his battle with the Catholic Church over his divorce. Clifford Priory was dissolved between 1535 and 1540 with all other monastic houses in the country. The buildings of the Priory were converted for use as houses or farms, or demolished for use as stone. Such diligent recycling of building materials was a characteristic of the times, and villagers had already demolished much of Clifford Castle for use in their own properties.
Redistribution of land

When the Priory was dissolved, the advowson (right of appointment of a priest) passed to the Walwyn family together with the ‘greater tithes’ (part of the income from the parish). Meanwhile the Priory’s lands were sold off to powerful local families, in particular to the Middlewood estate, the Whitney estate (by this time, owners of Clifford castle), and the Moor estate owned by the Penoyre family.

These three families were to dominate the local area for the next few hundred years. For example the Middlewood estate was owned by the Higgins family from the early 1700’s until1905. William Higgins is listed on the 1851 census as Attorney and Solicitor, and a holding cell in the property of Middlewood House still exists where prisoners were held. 

The civil war

In 1642, at the beginning of the Civil War, Herefordshire was predominantly Royalist, like most of the west of Britain.  By 1645, the royalist forces were coming under increasing pressure from the parliamentary troops, and on June 18th that year, King Charles I arrived in Hereford to try to raise troops and money.  On 22nd June, Barnabas Scudamore, Governor of Hereford and High Sheriff, sent out the following warrant:

“By His Majesty’s express Command at the Unanimous desire of the Gentry and other Inhabitants of this County assembled the 21st June at Hereford, I am to require you Mr Thomas Penoyer and Mr John Higgins gent to cause forthwith to be listed within the parish of Clifford, thirty seaven able bodied men such as you shall judge fittest for Service, and to cause them without fayle to appeare at the gen’all Rendezvous at Wigmarsh the 28 day of this month, and to cause a months contribution of y’r parish to be collected and brought in by you at the same time for the providinge of Muskets Bandoleers etc. for the sayd Souldiers so brought in.”

But the muster was to no avail. By the end of the year, the parliamentary forces had established control over most of the county, and by February 1646 Thomas Penoyer was imprisoned in Hereford charged with forcing people to fight for the king. The charge brought against him read that ‘About midnight being assisted with his servants pulled (this man) out of his bedd and pressed him to be a souldyer for the kinge’ and that ‘Mr Penoyer did beate and wound diverse of them that he did presse for neglecting or refusing the said service and threatened to hang those that disobeyed him therein’.  Many of his goods were confiscated and in September 1648 parliamentary troops plundered the Penoyre family house at The Moor.

James Penoyre, his oldest son, had also fought for the king, despite being only 16, and was wounded.  After the war the family retrieved most of their possessions, and in 1655 James married Dorothy Lloyd and settled at Hardwicke Court, where the family still lives today. 

The drovers

Clifford has always been a primarily agricultural parish, and life in the area for most of its residents has been largely shaped by the rhythms and trends of the agricultural cycle.

Before the arrival of railways and motor transport, livestock walked to market. Stock was collected into groups of several hundred animals and then herded from the hilly areas of Wales and Scotland to fatten on the lush grazing grounds around London. By the mid 18th century over 30,000 cattle from Wales travelled annually through Herefordshire, including through Clifford, on these so-called droving roads. When the cattle reached the hard roads they had to be shod to protect their feet. One of the main shoeing stations in Herefordshire was at the Rhydspence Inn, just over the river from Clifford.

Wherever possible, drovers tried to avoid tollgates, where a toll had to be paid on each animal. There was a tollgate in Bredwardine, so drovers would take their cattle over Merbach hill to save money. Part of the current Wye Valley walk follows an old drover route. Another local drovers’ route was across a ford near the present-day site of the Whitney toll bridge, which Cardiganshire drovers used to take their cattle to the English markets. 

Traditional drovers’ routes are often given away by the width of the road, since cattle needed broad verges, and by the names of places and fields. Little London in Staunton-on-Wye, on the road between Clifford and Hereford, was probably named by a returning drover. Overnight stopping-off places were often situated near three or five pine trees, which acted as B&B signs for drovers.

Crossing the Wye

The unpredictability of the Wye was shown in 1730, when Whitney old church was swept away by a huge flood, and the river changed its course. The church’s remains were left high and dry on the wrong side of the river.

By the end of the 18th century, local dignitaries were fed up with fording the river, and decided to build a bridge over the Wye at Whitney.  Tomkyns Dew, Lord of the Manors of Whitney and Clifford, had a bill presented to the House of Commons on 9th November 1774. The bill was passed, and a group of local men was given the task of building the bridge in three years, having been allotted land for a tollhouse. They were allowed to take stone, gravel and sand as required from Tomkyns Dew’s property.

The first bridge collapsed owing to a combination of bad foundations and floods. A second bridge soon suffered the same fate. A third bridge was then washed away on February 1795 in a flood two and half feet higher than any previously recorded. The three bridges were built of stone and were composed of five arches. Each arch had a span of 30 feet, and was 15 feet above river level and 12 feet wide.

This third disaster was enough for the group of men charged with building the bridge. Having been financially ruined by their efforts, they retired to pursue other activities. “The pertinacity of these gentlemen must arouse our admiration,” commented one local historian.

But in 1796 a fourth effort was made – “courage was shown by these men in tackling a fourth bridge after such rapid disasters to the former three” – and this time it was successful. Tolls were levied on all users of the bridge, with the exception of Whitney residents and their cattle, who were allowed to use the bridge for free.

The present Whitney toll bridge, looking towards Clifford from Whitney.
Photo: Dave Prescott

By the time the bridge was successfully constructed the river had become an important trade route. The large household at Clock Mill demonstrates the importance of the river to trade at this time. In 1793 it consisted of a water corn mill, grist mill, cider mill and clover mill. There had previously been a fulling mill as well, and many neighbouring pieces of land show signs of sheep baths where fleeces were washed prior to shearing.

Also in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century – according to a government hydrological survey carried out in 1965 – coal and other heavy articles from the Forest of Dean and Bristol were brought up the Wye by barge. Cider, bark and timber were sent back by the same conveyance to the River Severn. The river was navigable at that time as far as Hay.

Clifford Primary School

In 1814 the parish started collecting funds for the erection of Clifford Primary School. Thomas Stallard Penoyre of The Moor donated some land, but it took four years to get enough money together to start building. The vicar (Revd. John Trumper, vicar 1805-1855) applied to the National Society (a charitable body) for a grant and work started in 1818. In 1820 the John Smith Charity of Peterchurch agreed to provide the Board of Trustees.

Legal complications in appointing new trustees, and the death of Thomas Stallard Penoyre in 1821 before the land had been conveyed to the school held up any more work until 1834, when a new scheme was drawn up. This time the plans went through and by early 1837 the school was opened, overseen by The Smith Charity. The school was smaller than it is now, since it has been extended several times. 

Between 1855 and 1887, the charity also hosted two ‘dame schools’ (infant schools run in private houses) – one in Westbrook and one in Clifford itself

By 1874 the school was called the ‘Clifford Endowed National School’ and in 1889-1890 an extension to the schoolroom and some cloakrooms were built, followed in 1905 by a grant of additional land from the Penoyre family to the Smith charity for a playground.

In 1909 Herefordshire County Council took over the running of the school. New classrooms were added in 1910 and 1914. Cookery was taught from 1927, woodwork from 1934, and gardening after the addition of a further plot in 1936. Students from Peterchurch and Vowchurch came by train to the small halt (Green Sidings) on the Golden Valley line until its closure in 1941, and then they came by bus. 

During the Second World War several evacuees from the Bootle area of Lancashire attended the school. This was quite an upheaval both for them and for the locals, but they seemed to settle very well and some returned to visit in later years. 

At the split of primary and secondary education in 1947-48, there were no places for secondary pupils in Herefordshire, and so most initially went across the border to Clyro. Some of them received special bicycles for the purpose. It was not until 1963 that Herefordshire provided a local secondary school for its pupils in Peterchurch.

In July 1948 the school became Clifford County Primary School, as it is now. A canteen was opened in 1949, replaced by a new dining hut in 1961. Electricity finally reached the school in 1951, and flush toilets in 1954.

Churches in Clifford and Hardwicke (click here for more)

Of the many churches and chapels in the parish built over the past millennium, only a few now survive. It is possible to trace the history of a church in Middlewood through historical records as follows: Duncomb’s History of Herefordshire/Clifford states: In the year 1200 Walter de Clifford and Agnes De Conde endowed 9 acres of Middlewood Pasture and Middlewood Common to Friar Stephen of Winforton Island for a church.

In 1657, when one Silas Taylor undertook inventories for Cromwell, he states: There is ye church of Middlewood and seven chapples of ease as well as Saint Oswald’s.  In ye church is ye tomb onely of a fryer cut exquisitely in wood under an arch on ye north side and nothing else as I could meet with”.

In the nineteenth century, John Webb mentions in his diaries that the remains of the church in Middlewood were pulled down by a local landowner, William Higgins.

Meanwhile there has been a church on the site of St Mary’s for well over a thousand years. When the monks of the Priory built St Mary’s church in the 13th century, they were probably replacing an older building. Some original stonework remains from the monks’ building, although major alterations were made in the 19th century.

During the first restoration of 1839 the church was enlarged. The north wall was taken down and a baptistery and vestry built on either side of a central porch. In a second restoration of 1888 these were pulled down and the present north aisle, porch, vestry and organ chamber erected.

The nave stonework dates mainly from the 13th century, though the window above the blocked-up south porch doorway is part of the 1839 restoration.  The pews, lectern, pulpit and rood screen are of the 1888 restoration.  The fontbowl is possibly 14th century work. 

The west tower is entered through a door given in memory of Thomas William Walwyn Trumper (Vicar, 1874-1924).  The Walwyns and their successors, the Trumpers, have held the advowson of Clifford since 1536. 

On the roof of the belfry are the shields of four local families, the Penoyres, Cliffords, de Whitneys and Walwyns. The belfry (not normally open to visitors) houses a peal of eight bells. Four are the originals cast by William Evans of Chepstow in 1736. The fifth bell of this peal was recast in 1897 and the same year three more bells were given to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

The creation of Hardwicke
In the late 1840s the Penoyre family obtained permission to split Clifford in two and create a new parish on the south side of the Bredwardine road – namely the hamlets of Hardwicke, Middlewood, Broadmeadow, Newton and Westbrook.  Construction of Hardwicke church began in 1849 and a separate parish was created in 1853. 

Holy Trinity Church, Hardwicke

Holy Trinity Church in Hardwicke serves the areas of Archenfield, Hardwicke Green, Middlewood and Westbrook, although these remain part of the civil parish of Clifford. The church was consecrated on 3rd September 1853 by the bishop of Hereford.

Holy Trinity Church, Hardwicke, in 1860.
Photo: Penoyre family records

The roof in the nave, and the pews, were built with oak from The Moor Estate, belonging to the Penoyre family. The Rev. W. T. Napleton Stallard Penoyre became the first vicar of Hardwicke. On his death in 1856, Thomas William Webb took the ministry of the parish (see below).

Thomas William Webb

The Reverend Thomas William Webb, born in 1806, was the only son of Revd John Webb.  Educated by his father before going to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, he was ordained in Hereford Cathedral in 1830. Thomas married Henrietta Montague Wyatt of Mitcheltroy, Monmouth in 1843. They had no children.

Thomas served in a number of parishes in the south of Herefordshire, sometimes as curate to his father, as well as at Gloucester Cathedral. In 1856 he became vicar of Hardwicke. He remained there until his death in 1885.

Thomas Webb is most remembered for his interest in astronomy and the meticulous observations that he made from a small observatory in the garden of Hardwicke Vicarage. He took a great interest in encouraging the younger generation to take up astronomy and published many articles in popular scientific magazines as well as writing books.  Most notable of these was Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, which became a standard resource for astronomers across the world until well into the 20th century.

The railways

Clifford hosted two railway lines in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The Hereford and Brecon Railway (1864 – 1962) served Whitney, while Clifford was on the Golden Valley Railway Extension (1889-1949) from Dorstone to Hay.

The course of the Golden Valley railway extension was from above Hay, across the Whitney road at Grove Wood (where one side of the road bridge and embankment can be seen), across the southern road up the hill to the church above Upper and Lower Courts, on to Clifford station, which was by the northern road to the church, and then round the hill, halfway up the slope, in a right-handed curve. 

There were three stations within the parish, one in Clifford village, one at Westbrook, and one at Pen-y-park Green’s Siding. The line of the track is easy to see, and signals and station buildings were present within the memory of all but the youngest residents of the parish. There was a siding at Green Farm where the line ran under the Bredwardine road at Pen-y-park, and where children were dropped off on their way to Clifford Primary School. After Green’s Siding, the line passed under the Ross road just past the former Royal Oak pub at Hardwicke. The train stopped at Westbrook station before it went on to Dorstone and Pontrilas. 

An in-depth description of the railways through Clifford is available in ‘The Golden Valley Railway’, written by WH Smith.

A train arriving at Westbrook Station, August 1932.
Photo: Mike Tom

Francis Kilvert

Well-known diarist Francis Kilvert was born in 1840 and after school and university helped his father Robert at Langley Burrell (near Chippenham, Wilts.) until his ordination in 1864.  His first appointment was as curate of Clyro, just across the Wye from Hay, where he remained from 1865 until returning to Langley Burrell in 1872, again as his father's curate.  In 1876 he was appointed to St Harmon (near Rhayader) and upon the sudden death of John Houseman in 1877 was appointed vicar of Bredwardine with Brobury in November of that year. He died in September 1879, five weeks after his marriage, and only a few days after returning to Bredwardine with his bride.  His grave is on the north side of Bredwardine church.  His widow Elizabeth lived until 1911 and is buried in the southwest corner of the newer graveyard on the south side of the church.

Since the publication of the three edited volumes of his diaries in 1938, three other parts of the diaries have been found and published.  In addition a biography and many other books and pamphlets concerning his life and works have been published. 

Because five or six of the original diary notebooks were destroyed by Mrs Kilvert long before publication, and the remainder (except for three which form the additional volumes referred to above) were destroyed afterwards in the 1950s by his niece, the account is not continuous. Therefore, although it is extremely likely that Kilvert visited Clifford quite often, only the occasions mentioned in the diaries can be set down with any certainty.

In the following extract, from 12th July, 1870, Kilvert describes a visit to Clifford Priory:

Walked to Clifford Priory across the fields with Crichton and Barton. Bevan and Morrell walked on before faster and got there before us. I had some pleasant talk with Barton, who is a clever well-read man, about Tennyson, Wordworth, Mr Monkhouse, the Holy Grail, and at last we got to Clifford Priory, very hot, a few people out in the sun on the lawn, and Lucy Allen came to meet us. A crowd in the drawing room drinking claret cup iced and eating enormous strawberries. Gradually people turned out on the lawn. Everyone about here is so pleasant and friendly that we meet almost like brothers and sisters. Great fun on the lawn, 6 cross games of croquet and balls flying in all directions. High tea at 7.30 and croquet given up. More than 40 people sat down. Plenty of iced claret cup, and unlimited fruit, very fine, especially the strawberries. 

After tea we all strolled out into the garden and stood on the high terrace to see the eclipse. It had just begun. The shadow was slowly steadily stretching over the large bright moon and had eaten away a small piece at the lower left side. It was very strange and solemn to see the shadow stealing gradually on till half the moon was obscured. As the eclipse went on the bright fragment of the moon seemed to change colour, to darken and redden. We were well placed for seeing the eclipse and the night was beautiful, and most favourable, not a cloud in the way. We watched the eclipse till all that was left of the moon was a point of brightness like a large three-cornered star. Then it vanished altogether. Some people said they could discern the features of the moon's face through the black shadow.

Meantime we strolled about in different groups and William Thomas and Crichton ran a race up the steep slippery terrace bank. The ladies’ light dresses looked ghostly in the dusk and at a little distance it was almost impossible to tell which was a lady in a white dress and which was a clump of tall white lilies. 

� Penguin Books Ltd., 1977

Clifford today

Today the main industry in Clifford, apart from agriculture, is tourism, driven by the neighbouring town of Hay-on-Wye’s bookshops and literary festival. As everywhere in the country, farming is changing. Many farms have diversified and traditional farm buildings are being redeveloped.

Despite all the changes, Clifford’s population remains steady. There are few empty houses in the parish, the community centre thrives with events, there is an annual village show, and the primary school recently added a fourth class. The Parish Plan process of 2006-7 found that people are generally happy with life in Clifford, perhaps due to some of the same attributes that attracted the original settlers six thousand years ago.


Sources and further information

Some of the information on these pages comes from local residents and is unreferenced.  Known sources are as follows:
Alexander W Allison, Herbert Barrows, Caesar R Blake, Arthur J Carr, Arthur M Eastman, Hubert M English, Jr. (1970) Norton Anthology of Poetry, 3rd edition, WW Norton and Co., Inc.
Kenneth R Clew (1982), Clifford, Herefordshire: a brief guide
Josephine Jeremiah (2004), A Pictorial History of the River Wye, Phillimore & Co. Ltd
Robert Francis Kilvert (1971) Kilvert's Diary, Jonathan Cape
Robert Francis Kilvert (1977) Kilvert's Diary: A Selection Edited and Introduced by William Plomer, Penguin Books Ltd.
JA Millardship and JF Morris, (1995) The history of Clifford School 1836-1986
John Marius Wilson (1870-72), Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales
Who's Who in British History, H. W. Wilson Company

Further research on families in Clifford

Many people visit this site looking for information about relatives and family members who have lived in Clifford in the past. In addition to the books mentioned above, a number of further sources of information may help you:

- Herefordshire Council's 
Sites and Monuments Record contains a great deal of information about Clifford's history, including the remains of quarries, obelisks, mills, the site of a second castle, a medieval deer park, a post-medieval tramway, a couple of suspected henges, a deserted village in Castleton, archaeological summaries of local buildings, and details of unearthed discoveries at the castle such as a boar's tusk and wolf vertebrae. 

- Official records relating to families in Clifford are available from the Herefordshire Records Office, tel. 01432 260750, or by e-mail.

- The Woolhope Club in Hereford was founded in 1851 and has a large archive relating to local history, archaeology and architecture of Herefordshire as well as natural history and geology. The Club's records are available from Hereford library on Thursdays.

- A local resident has reconstructed a map of Clifford in c. 1840, based on tithe maps, showing lists of landowners and field names. The map is available for a small fee, click here to e-mail the author.

- A number of farm surveys and old aerial photographs are available on the Clifford archive page. More (copyrighted) maps, farm surveys and old photographs are available from Dave at the address below.

- For a registration fee you can access
censi, births & deaths, military records etc from 'Family Tree Maker 2008', available via 

Best of luck with your research.

E-mail Dave the website manager at: cliffordparish(at) [replace 'at' with @]