10 September, 2006



I moved on from Cardiff by train to Hereford where I was to stay for a few days to go to Hay on Wye. Hereford is also in a beautiful setting on the Wye. Travelling up with Robert and one of the Coöperative College academic Staff, and had a jolly journey – not very frequent on the railways today.

Hereford is a pleasant cathedral city, although the cathedral was largely rebuilt (or, as they called it then, restored) in the nineteenth Century. It is also headquarters of the SAS, an elite British Army Squad.

After I had found a hotel, I went to look around the main drag of the town. The place had a large number of public houses full of young people, probably some of whom were pretending to be SAS but I suspect most were farmers sons. Nevertheless, there was some top totty on display, and I do like my eye candy.

My first port of tourism call was the Conningsby hospital and Blackfriars Priory ruins.
The hospital is an almshouse foundation by the Order of St John of Jerusalem and there is a Saint John’s Ambulance station next door to these pretty cottages built in the characteristic local pink stone. I did not get to see inside the almshouse grounds but the priory, which was founded by the black prince stands in a pleasant rose garden, with a fourteenth century preaching cross which was set up by the black friars, also known as the Order of Preachers, and this is where the friars would preach to the multitudes.
It is a survivor as very few such crosses have survived. After this, it was time for Sung Eucharist in the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint Ethelbert the King. The congregation were a little bit on the elderly side but the hymns and the service were beautifully sung by the Cathedral choir which had just returned after the summer break. Afterwards Coöperative Fair Trade coffee was served in the hall of the Vicars Choral, normally off limits to the public. This is accessed via a medieval corridor with fine carving on its timber roof and there are little houses round a cloister originally built for the vicars choral who provided the music for the cathedral in days of yore. Their dining hall was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and is a finely proportioned and comfortable room.

The Cathedral is also home to the Mappa Mundi, the medieval map of the world and two chained libraries. The Mappa Mundi was drawn on vellum in 1305 by a canon of Hereford. The map was not a navigation aid, it was drawn to show the relation between G*d and his church/people. Hence, it shows Jerusalem as the centre of the world with Jesus presiding over the last judgement. At the outer edge is England, looking remarkably exact, with Lincoln Cathedral proudly shown as scholars consider the canon had once been at Lincoln Cathedral. The second largest chained library in the country has come from All Saints Church, Hereford which is just a short distance from the cathedral, and the largest chained library is the one belonging to Hereford Cathedral itself. The library of All Saints has been sent to the cathedral where a new library building has been built to house the collection. This new library is climate controlled and has all kinds of modern aids to prevent the destruction of the books, except by readers. However, the library has been for most of its existence just anywhere in the cathedral or the church and has still been preserved from destruction. The odd thing about the library is that the books have their fore edges facing the reader and not the spines. This looks wrong to modern eyes but prevents the chains becoming tangled.

My next call was the Borough Museum and Art Gallery which was interesting in the way these museums are. There were fragments of a Roman pavement and good some good dressing up and other interactive games for children.

The Old house in Hereford was formerly the end of Butchers Row in the town. It became a traffic island but a pedestrianisation scheme has made it more accessible. This house was built for a wealthy butcher during Jacobean times and is furnished in the way it would have been in 1621. The ceilings have very fine pargeting and there are old wall paintings that have been removed from other places in the city. The bedrooms are not very comfortable – they would need four poster hangings to keep warm I’m sure.

The time had come to change hotels and I moved to one which was like the American House in Sinclair Lewis’s Work of Art book. The lamps were cunningly placed so I couldn’t use them to read in bed and the television was old. At least the room did not appear to be a working man’s room but more a tourist one, the hotel being thus divided.

One thing it did do was serve local faggots as a snack. As I didn’t meet any local faggots, I was unable to ask them what they thought of this. Perhaps they’d all been eaten as snacks.

Hereford was quite a jolly place to be in with a lot to see. There is a curious suspension bridge over the Wye and some old churches. In All Saints, I found a café offering home made meals, including home made bread to the people in a popular café. There must have been a long tradition of this as there was an old bread shelf, once used to distribute bread to the poor after Sunday service. There were stairs to a former rood loft and a stainless steel modular lavatory that was also popular.

At Saint Peters, I found a tribute to a former incumbent who had helped to establish welfare services in the city including public baths and cottages for the poor. The pubs in Hereford are quite good as befits a garrison town with cheap beer and food.

An enjoyable stay.

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