Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Have a butcher’s at this

After a necessarily brief trip to Hereford recently, the Resident Wise Woman and I simultaneously came up with the thought that we ought to return and explore the place more thoroughly. It was not just that interesting buildings other than the familiar cathedral seemed to be popping up all over the place, but also that the sunshine brought out many details I’d not really looked at before, like some of the carving on this timber-framed building in the city centre. This landmark of 1621 is known as Butcher’s Hall, and was originally part of a row of wooden-framed shops and houses built by the city’s butchers. The rest of the row was demolished in a wave of architectural violence that occurred, I think, in the 19th century, when the city’s extraordinary medieval market hall was also destroyed. Only this stunner, now isolated at one end of the long open market place called High Town, remains.

The building’s name is almost certainly misleading. It seems not to have been a public building but was put up by one man, said to be the butcher John Jones, for his own use. It’s a riot of wooden posts, beams, and braces, and is generously windowed with what would have been very costly glass. The carving, on corbels, lintels, and bargeboards, is particularly lavish, although some of that on the porch is actually an 1880s addition, done when the building was converted to form the premises of a bank. In a fishing touch that many must miss, the square brick chimney is finished with crenellations and corner projections so that it resembles a tiny castle keep. With buildings like this, there’s always something that repays a second look. Butcher’s Hall is now a museum, and when I have more time I plan to return and go inside.
Butcher’s Hall, Hereford, chimney and bargeboards


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I noted the quality of the bricks. When you approach from South Wales, Hereford seems rather brick-y by contrast with the quarry stone used in Welsh towns. I felt on one occasion it was nearer in general feel to far-away Norwich, which I had visited recently, than to some towns which are quite near geographically, but up in them thar hills. Since there were no towns to speak of in Wales, people with Welsh patronymic surnames seemed to flock to Hereford, Shrewsbury, Bristol, etc. to pursue commercial interests, so with Hereford it's difficult to keep up with the Joneses. See the Native Welsh arms of one of the bishops in the cathedral. Just by the cathedral the Catholic church is very gracious and Classical: in a glass case is the hand of one of those put to death for being a Catholic priest in Penal Times. But I'm sure you'd have some meaningful remarks on the architecture - if not in the pipeline already. And what about one of the 19th century shops opposite (or is it the museum?)? Thanks again for this blog!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, Hereford does have a brickiness to it that's different from those southern Welsh towns. There is indeed a sense of Welshness – or at least of Welshness being not far away – in Hereford, and Herefordshire generally. I remember meeting one native (of Bromyard I think) whose voice had the hint of a Welsh accent and even over the border here in Glarstershur, the people of the Forest of Dean are very aware of the proximity of Wales. Dennis Potter (who grew up in the Forest) said that 'as a border people' they 'hated' the Welsh, though that's certainly not the case with Foresters I've known.

You have anticipated me with the Catholic church. It did catch my eye, although I couldn't get inside. I've just posted about it. Yes, I think it's the museum that's opposite. There certainly are some interesting 19th century shop fronts, which will repay further study – my pictures of those aren't great, however.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Dry Sundays did not improve English - Welsh relations in the Forest of Dean. It was important for Welsh self-respect when mostly it was treated as just a part of England to have alcohol-free Sundays, which meant the confirmed topers who couldn't last a day flocked over the bridge into the alehouses of the Forest. These were not always the best ambassadors for the Welsh sociability and openness! There has been no political division since about 1090, but it's still surprising how buildings on either side of the border (with some exceptions) take on a Welsh or English character accordingly. Compare the parish churches near the Wye in Gwent with those on the other side: e.g. Tidenham and Staunton with Trelleck or Caldicot. Explain it I can't.