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Books on Mercia and the Welsh Marches

On the Trail of the Mortimers: With a Quiz and an I-Spy competition

by Philip Hume

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Paperback, 144 pages with over 75 colour photographs as well as maps and family trees
ISBN 9781910839041     Price £7.50

This book both gives a history of the Mortimers (notably in their actions and impact on the central Marches) and suggests a tour, which you can vary to suit your own interests, that explores the surviving physical remains that relate to the family. The Mortimer family came from Normandy, either at or shortly after the Norman Conquest, became established in Wigmore and the surrounding area and, over the centuries, rose to be one of the most powerful families in the land. Partly through the good fortune of having an unbroken male succession for over 350 years, and also through conquest, marriage and royal favour, they amassed a great empire of estates in England, Wales and Ireland; played key roles in the changing balance of power between the monarchy and nobles; deposed a king and virtually ruled the kingdom for three years; became, in later generations, close heirs to the throne through marriage; and seized the throne through battle when a Mortimer grandson became King Edward IV.
The tour outlined in the book details what there is to see at 17 locations connected with the Mortimers. These include substantial remains of stone-built castles as well as mottes of several smaller castles; churches and tombs; depictions of individual members of the family and their heraldic coats of arms in stained glass; and buildings and art patronised by the family. A Quiz and an I-Spy have been designed to give pleasure to families wishing to find out more, with the successful completion of the latter leading to a certificate issued by the Mortimer History Society. Richly illustrated with over 75 colour photographs, together with maps and family trees, this book can therefore be enjoyed on several fronts.

Having gained a degree in history at University College, London, Philip Hume had a successful career in senior management in local government. In 2014, Philip relocated to live outside Ludlow in the heart of ‘Mortimer Country’. This has been an ideal location to link his enthusiasm for medieval history and researching the lives and events that shaped the area, with exploring new places to find the buildings and artefacts that connect us to our past.

The Drovers' Roads of the Middle Marches

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their history and how to find them today, including sixteen circular walks                    
by Wayne Smith             

                                                                                                                                                                         Paperback, A5 landscape, 176 pages, 12 black and white and 50 colour photographs, plus 17 maps
ISBN 978 1 906663 74 2     £10

In The Drovers’ Roads of the Middle Marches, Wayne Smith tells the story of the men who until as recently as the 1930s used to walk with their sheep and cattle out of Wales along the ancient trackways to the markets and fairs of England. The journeys were carefully judged – too slow and the expenses of feeding and accommodating men and beasts would mount, too fast and the animals would lose condition. Taking the easier routes meant the expense of turnpikes and tollgates, but going the long way round cost time. Droving was a steady trade, and it is no wonder that the drovers were often entrusted with commissions and even money to be taken to London, a practice from which the first banks developed. Along the way, they would stop at drovers’ inns, some of which still exist, and smithies where the cattle would be shod for the harder English roads.
    It was the coming of the railways and other means of transport that ended the centuries-old practice of droving, but as the author explains, tell-tale signs of droving routes can still be discerned in the landscape today in the pine trees and ponds that marked the routes, and the names of farms, houses and inns. Drawing on his deep knowledge and love of the Welsh Marches, Wayne Smith describes the routes the drovers took over the hills and through the valleys, and gives detailed guidance to 16 circular walks, all in places of great beauty, and provides information about castles, hill forts and other places of interest to be seen on the way, all illustrated with his own photographs.


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by Richard Hayman                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Paperback, 276 pages with over 160 colour and 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 978 1 910839 09 6    £15

‘A succession of nameless wonders’ was how the 18th-century poet Thomas Gray described a journey down the River Wye. The Wye has long been celebrated as one of Britain’s most beautiful rivers, especially the lower section between Ross-on-Wye and Chepstow. But the Wye is one of Britain’s longest rivers, with its source in the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales, and it has a rich heritage that remains under-appreciated. Its natural beauty has long been part of the river’s heritage. In the 18th century the Wye became one of Britain’s first tourist destinations; Chepstow and Goodrich castles and especially Tintern Abbey were inseparable from the pleasures of river scenery. Over two centuries later the Wye is still for most people primarily a river of leisure and pleasure. Canoes and pleasure cruisers have replaced the old river barges, riverbank walkers now follow the paths of bow haulers, and there are riverside parks instead of timber yards and wharves. The Wye was one of the first rivers along which there was a recognised long-distance footpath, and the Wales Coast Path begins in Chepstow below the bridge, a reminder that the Wye is an estuarine river that defines the south-east limit of the Welsh coast.
    Many aspects of the river’s history have been forgotten, however, and this book makes an effort to recover and value them. The river has been an active player in events that have shaped the history of the region. It has been a mode of transport, carrying vessels down with the current and upriver with the tide, and once turned the waterwheels of industry. It was also the source of a once abundant supply of delicious and nutritious food, something that allowed early Christian hermits to settle beside it. Many of the chapels they founded became parish churches and are still open for worship. Crossing the river has tested human ingenuity and inspired works of engineering, some of which like the old Chepstow road bridge and Chepstow railway bridge are landmarks in engineering history. Having both a Welsh and an English heritage, the Wye has a special unifying role in British culture, as well as exhibiting some of the classic features of a border. The river has been a psychological barrier separating cultures by language, religion and politics, and a physical barrier separating hostile rivals. By tradition the Wye was the last refuge of Vortigern and of Owain Glyndwr, and down the river floated timber for building the ships that took on the French at Trafalgar. The landscape of the Wye valley is part of our national story.
    Richard Hayman is an historian and archaeologist, author of several books on the history of Britain and the British landscape. Wye is a companion to his earlier book Severn (2012), also published by Logaston Press.

Under the Black Mountains: The History of Gwernyfed since 1600

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Edited by Colin A. Lewis                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Paperback, 128 pages, over 30 colour and 40 black and white photographs
ISBN 978-1-910839-15-7      Price £12.95

This book contains four personal memories of Gwernyfed and its environs — those of Elyned Hore-Ruthven who was brought up at Gwernyfed Park in the late 1800s and early 1900s, returning to use Old Gwernyfed in later life as a home for part of the year; of Thomas Perks whose family farmed at Old Gwernyfed in the mid 1800s; of J.W. Hobbs who worked on the railways at Three Cocks Station in the early 1900s; and of Mary Kinsey who tells of those who lived in the area between the 1880s and 1960s. To these Colin Lewis has added a history of the Gwernyfed Estate that provides a background to these four accounts, together with other details that develop the overall story and bring it up to date with the creation of Gwernyfed High School, which the Welsh Government has placed in the highest educational category for schools in Wales.

Colin Lewis lectured in Geography in Ireland before moving to South Africa, where he was successively Professor and Head of Department at the Universities of Transkei and Zululand, and at Rhodes University. Professor Lewis is the author of many books, and has been awarded the prestigious National University of Ireland’s Prize for Irish Historical Research.

From the Marches to the Sea

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A photographic journey

by John Rux-Burton

240 x 210mm Landscape    128 pages     115 colour photographs    Hardback
ISBN 978 1 906663 56 8    Price: £15

Radnor Forest, the Elan and Ystwyth Valleys form an area that is the National Park that never was, one of the great jewels of the British Isles. Heading west from Leominster, the rolling fields, hop-poles and cider orchards of Herefordshire soon give way to a new landscape, a place of heather and bracken, rock-filled streams, waterfalls, scree-cluttered slopes, mawn pools, red kites wheeling across wide skies, forgotten castles, and mist tumbling down tree-cloaked hillsides. This book traces an emotional journey through this land of wonders from Hergest Ridge and Radnor Forest, through the Elan Valley and down the Ystwyth to the Hafod, Devil’s Bridge, the Vale of Rheidol and so to the sea.
    Though he was born in Hampstead, London, John Rux-Burton’s maternal family can trace their ancestry back to the Vaughans of Tretower and Hergest Court, where once the Red Book containing the Welsh tales of the Mabinogion was housed. From his home in Kington, he has explored the landscape that stretches westwards across central Wales to the sea. He says,  ‘It is not for me a place of perfection, but a place where perfection may be glimpsed, out of the corner of the eye, obliquely, in a feeling, or a fleeting movement of light upon the land: a step, for an instant, into an Eden, at least of the imagination.’ At Lincoln College, Oxford, he read English Literature with a special interest in 18th-century writing on aesthetics, John Clare, and the anti-pastorals of George Crabbe. His work has been exhibited widely, has been successful in numerous competitions and been featured in various photography magazines.

Three Chevrons Red:

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The Clares: A Marcher Dynasty in Wales, England and Ireland

by Paul R. Davis

Paperback, 368 pages, full colour, over 130 illustrations   
ISBN 9781906663803    Price £15    

Seven hundred years ago one of the greatest dynasties of the Middle Ages was brought to a premature end on a Scottish battlefield. Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, Marcher baron of Glamorgan and lord of Clare, lay among the heaped corpses strewn across the blood-soaked field of Bannockburn, a casualty of one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the English Crown. The young earl was the last male heir of a family that had ruled in Britain since the Norman Conquest, and had gained properties and titles stretching from East Anglia to the shores of western Ireland. The Clares had been implicated in murder, treason and regicide, alternately supporting the reigning monarch and rising in revolt, seizing lands and building mighty castles to enforce their claims, and trampling over the rights of anyone beneath their status. For two and a half centuries the Clares set about amassing wealth and privileges until they became one of the richest and most powerful dynasties in the land. As Marcher lords and leading magnates the Clares were involved in the politics and wars of the Welsh border, of Ireland, of the government in England and finally and fatally in that of Scotland.
This book explores the history of the family from their origins in Normandy, through their dizzying rise to power, to the final twilight years. The tales tell of earls and clerks, of jousters and warriors, of cosmopolitan men of the world and xenophobic land-grabbers, of marriages arranged for family gain and the occasional triumph of love nurtured in secret liaisons, of war and of diplomacy, of women who stood their ground and enjoyed their widowhood.
Using a wealth of photographs, maps and reconstruction drawings, the book also explores the Clares’ enduring legacy – the great castles and manor houses they built to maintain their power and status, the monasteries they founded for the peace of their bloodstained souls, and the churches and colleges they endowed to perpetuate their name.
Paul Davis is an author and illustrator who has written many books on the architecture and history of medieval Wales. His earlier books with Logaston Press are Hearth & Home, the story of the Welsh House and The Forgotten Castles of Wales.

Saints and Sinners of the Marches

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by Michael Tavinor
                                                                                                                                                                                                             with illustrations by Sandy Elliott

Hardback, 400 pages with 367 line drawings    
ISBN 9781906663612  £20

"The dean of Hereford has compiled a delightful book – a cross between John Aubrey's famous Brief Lives, Thomas Fuller's The Worthies of England and an ecclesiastical calendar of local saints and, from time to time, villains. Few pages are devoid of someone or something upon which to ponder and reflect, but equally, to fill us with grateful surprise that this ancient area of the Marches succeeded in producing, over the centuries, so many extraordinary saints and sinners." Sir Roy Strong.

The Very Reverend Michael Tavinor has been dean of Hereford since 2002. A long interest in the saints and a fondness for anthologies led him to apply this medium to the lovely part of England where he now lives. Canon Sandy Elliott has worked in Herefordshire as a teacher, artist and designer for 40 years. She has a wide-ranging interest in art, religion and the history of Hereford and the Marches. She is a lay member of the Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.


by Sarah Zaluckyj

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320 pages with over 180 photographs, plans, drawings and maps
ISBN: 978 1 906663 54 4 (2nd edition)         £14.95

Of the three great Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain before the advent of “England’ — Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex — Mercia has long deserved its own history. Northumbria had Bede, Wessex had the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but Mercia has largely to be explored through the eyes of others.
This book attempts to redress this gap. Using the fragmentary chronicles that refer to the kingdom, inferring from lost sources utilized by later medieval chroniclers, extracting information from the charters, letters and other documents of the period that have survived and incorporating the growing amount of information gained from archaeological excavations carried out over many years across the breadth of Mercia, this book provides a study of how the kingdom emerged from the Dark Ages in the late 6th and early 7th centuries and grew into a power to be reckoned with by the popes in Rome and the Carolingian empire from the late 8th century, a position of strength from which it subsequently declined.
At its greatest Mercia stretched from the Humber in the north to south of the Thames. Its remit ran from the Welsh borders to East Anglia. London was its main port, Tamworth its ‘capital’, and many of the towns that subsequently became county towns were developed. Mercia became recognized for its learning and for its industry, arguably the most important commodity of which was salt. It gained much of its central revenue from trade through the port of London and the extensive saltworks at Droitwich. Councils and synods were held at venues throughout the kingdom, often in large timber halls. Monasteries were founded with great enthusiasm, royal saints and their cults blossomed, trade and coinage developed in periods of stability.

Yet warfare never seems to have been far away. Initially this served to carve out the core of Mercia (primarily Staffordshire) under its earliest kings the most notable of whom was Cearl, then to extend the territory south-westwards into Worcestershire and Herefordshire under Penda, and eastwards into the east midlands as far as Cambridgeshire. Alliances were made in the 7th century with the Britons of Wales to counteract the power of Northumbria with whom warfare was waged over many years. East Anglia, the territory from which the original Mercians may have come or, at least, through which they passed, was at different times its ally, its enemy or a client province. Mercia was often in conflict with Wessex throughout its history and in later years with Kent. Friendship with the Welsh deteriorated into warfare on that frontier and led to the building of the famous Offa’s Dyke.
A period of stability and exercise of diplomacy under Offa and Coenred saw Mercia playing a role on the Continental stage, before a royal family, seemingly weakened by purges carried out by Offa, started to lose control of the south-eastern part of the kingdom. Yet, for many years Mercia remained a cohesive entity, until the advent of Scandinavian incursions caused the kingdom to buckle and, with the fall of Burgred, be split into the Danelaw and English Mercia, with client kings in the latter. Gradually Mercia came to recognize that its interests lay in working with Wessex and so emerged the idea of an ‘English’ kingdom, and the demise of that of Mercia.
Richly illustrated with over 180 photographs, plans, drawings and maps, this book explores one of the great Anglo-Saxon forebears of England.