People like to be near each other most of the time and we gather together in families and other sorts of groups for various reasons: for friendship and company, or to look after and protect each other. Together, families and tribes can defend themselves from their enemies and rivals. People also join with others to make tasks easier. ‘Work shared is work halved.’

Working together and depending upon one another, sharing, joining forces in defending homes and land, brought people together in villages, and villages which were particularly well placed grew into towns. When we look carefully at a map we can see that villages and towns are not just scattered anywhere, there is a reason for each of them being exactly where it is. Often, of course, the original conditions have changed, but people continue to build where they have always done.

The most important needs for any family or group are shelter from the weather and a spot where it is easy to obtain food and water. In the past this meant a valley or hollow away from the worst of the wind and rain, a stream or river for water, and somewhere to graze animals and raise crops. Along any stream there is a spot where it is easy to cross by wading (a ford), or by building a span across it (a bridge). In these places homes were built, and small villages grew up. Where important tracks crossed rivers and streams, the villages there flourished even more and forts best, plans is a grid: that is, a pattern of streets which run parallel to each other, and at right angles, rather like a draught board with the squares as spaces for houses and gardens. Nearly nine hundred years afterwards you can still see this grid pattern on a street plan of Ludlow, and if you walk in those streets you can understand it even better. Part of the market place has been filled in but the plan still works. Wide streets lead up from the bridge, and from the Shrewsbury road. The town was walled, of course, and Broad Gate is still there as a reminder.


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Like all good soldiers, Roger de Lacy built his castle on high ground, and it is partly encircled by the River Teme. (Ludlow means ‘hill by the rapid’.) The castle was there before the town and was a very important one. It was a vital strong-point in the defence system and became the seat of the President of the Marches, the leader of the Lords Marcher. Much of the building was destroyed during the Civil War, when it was the last Royalist foftress but one to hold out against the Roundheads. But the outer walls, most of the keep, and part of the round chapel are still intact. From the top of the tower you can see for miles across to Wales: a very good lookout point indeed, if you were watching for attackers. Then go down and out of the town across the bridge, and look up at the castle from there. What a place to try to attack! It was not all hghting there, though. John Milton’s masque Camus was first performed in the castle in 1634, and the tradition was revived in 1959; plays, concerts and films are presented now in the Ludlow Festival each summer.

Ludlow was built as a place to live and trade in and so it has remained ever since. It has been the market town for people for miles around for so long that the buildings and street names reflect its purpose. Right in the centre is the Butter Cross, built in 1734 and almost certainly replacing an earlier one. Before the ground floor arches were hlled in, it must have been very much like the market halls or town halls found in many of the towns here.

On the upper floor of the Butter Cross is a museum crammed full of interesting things connected with the history of the town. There you will find collections gathered from the famous fossil beds, a poster telling you about the mail coach which ran from Ludlow to London, and hundreds more objects used in the past.

Not far away is the Bull Ring and what must have once been an open space for the entertainment it provided. Kidderminster has one too, and in one of the villages not very far away there is still an actual ring, fastened to a stone in the road. No need to tell you how the Old Bull Tavern got its name; this is one of the black and white timbered buildings that Ludlow is so well known for. Close by is the best known of all, the Feathers Hotel. This is a really splendid place, not just dark timbers and white plaster making elaborate patterns, but with the wood carved all over as well.

Just as in the county towns, in Ludlow there are many houses built in brick. Those down the hill by Broad Gate are my favourites, what I think of as the most elegant.

Just at the time when timber for building began to become scarce, and bricks became the fashionable material to use instead, builders began to have new ideas about housesI From the time of Henry VIII onwards wealthy people visited Italy and began to copy the Italian style of building. After the Great Fire of 1666 the city of London was rebuilt in brick to prevent another disaster and the people living in country towns soon followed this fashion. ' Wealthy men had their houses built like Italian palaces, with evenly spaced windows making a pattern along the fronts. John Evelyn (the famous diarist) thought that houses ‘ought to be built exactly uniform, strong, and with beautiful fronts’, and that is a good description of many of the brick houses in Ludlow.

It is the white-painted windows and doorways that make the pattern on the front of these houses, whereas it is the frames that you notice first on the earlier, timber buildings. Notice too how the windows get smaller in the upper rooms, and how this helps draw your attention to the ground floor. The elaborate wooden doorways (often with a little pointed sloping roof of their own, called pediments) seem to say ‘Look at me, I’m important’.'Another change was in the walls where they met the roofs; the builders in brick began to carry the walls up past the gutters to make a parapet, and sometimes you cannot see the tiles at all.

The pattern and shape of buildings, and the way the shapes are balanced and put together in certain proportions, are what gives them a particular style. A change in style sometimes means a change of materials, and this happened when men decided to build in brick instead of timber and plaster. But even in the same material there can be differences in style: some brick houses are graceful, carefully balanced and elegant, others are ugly, with no thought given to their proportions.

In Ludlow you can find both timber and brick houses, and some of them are as good as any you will find in the whole of England.

‘About 1766, where the river Stour ernpties itself into the Severn below Mitton, stood a little alehouse called Stourmouth. Near this Brindley has caused a town to be erected, made a port and dockyards, built a new and elegant bridge, established markets, and made it the wonder not only of this county but of the nation at large. In the year I 795 it consisted of 2 50 houses and about 1,300 inhabitants. Thus was the sandy barren common at Stourport converted, in the space of thirty years, into a flourishing, healthy, and very populous village.’ So Wrote Dr T. R. Nash, the Worcestershire historian.

Stourport is a very unusual town indeed, since it is the only one in England to have been built solely as a canal centre. The great James Brindley, who had worked for the Duke of Bridgewater only a few years before, was the engi' neer responsible for Stourport. Not that he designed the town, but he did build the canal to link up with the Trent & Mersey Canal near Wolverhampton. What had previously been nothing more than a hamlet became a flourishing small town, depending on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal for its living. ‘The Stour Cut’, they called it when it was busy with narrow boats carrying coal and other goods. Now it carries only pleasure boats and the great basins at Stourport are filled with cabin cruisers. When those basins were newly built they were surrounded by houses and churches it is rather different. In those cases the owners or builders have felt that the building was‘ important enough to make it worthwhile using stone, even though it might have had to be carried some distance.

Most of the stone buildings in Gloucestershire, Here. fordshire and south Shropshire use the pinkish-purple Old Red Sandstone. This is fairly hard and dichult to cut. It usually breaks with an uneven surface and is impossible to cut cleanly with a stonemason’s chisel. For this reason it has been much used for walls, dressed roughly into shape, but a different material is needed for window and door openings. Because of its rough and rather irregular shape it needs plenty of mortar between the stones. Since this mortar has local sand in it, it too is pink, and the overall colour of a cottage or church wall tells you that you must be in Border country.

Window sills and doorways, and the tracery of the windows in churches, are usually carried out in another stone. You can tell the difference immediately by the look and feel of it. The church doorway at Kilpeck shows the contrast very well. You can see how much softer it is, and how the mason has been able to shape the stones with sharp, clean angles and a smooth surface. Afterwards he was able to carve in tremendous detail, with curling vines, and grotesque heads over the arch.

The softer New Red Sandstone is found over most of Worcestershire and all of Shropshire north and east of the Severn. Apart from being employed for the more delicate work, it has been used by itself all over that area. Cottages, farmhouses, churches and cathedrals have all been built in the New Red stone. Almost anywhere there it is possible to dig a usable stone, but the best has come from just a few quarries. Those at Alveley and Highley, beside the Severn below Bridgnorth, provided stone for Worcester Cathedral and Telford’s bridge at Bewdley. It was a simple matter to carry it downstream from there. Much more diflicult must have been the journey to Much Wenlock, where it was used for the Prior’s Lodge.

The other especially well-known quarry was at Grinshill. This had two pits, one giving a red stone and the other a greyish stone, which the Romans used at Wroxeter. Two places where you can see it today are Attingham Park, and St Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury.

In Herefordshire and Shropshire sandstone was used for roofs. Some varieties split quite easily and the slates made in this way can be enormous. Pitchford Hall has a roof like this, but you are just as likely to hnd a cowshed or pigsty roofed in the same way.

Gloucestershire has another type of sandstone as well as the red one. This is grey in colour, and is still quarried in the Forest of Dean. Some of it was used at Avonmouth Docks.

Limestone is the other important building stone in our region. Gloucester Cathedral was built with it (from Painswick quarry), and the beds of this rock, which run from Symonds Yat to Chepstow, are quarried in the Forest of Dean today. A different sort of limestone was used to build nearly all the older houses in Much Wenlock. This is the stone that has so many fossils in it. Outside the town you can see lots of small pits overgrown with grass; each one of them would have provided just enough stone to build one small house.

Looking at houses today you might think that bricks are the only material that can be used. Many buildings in the West Midlands show that this is not always true, but brick is now the cheapest material. Most of the bricks used there at present are brought in by road or railway from Bedford or Peterborough. In the past, though, they were made wherever they were needed. Most of the valleys, and the flatter country north of the River Severn, have clay beneath the surface. As timber became scarcer, and as bricks became the smart and fashionable material to build with, men began to dig this clay. As it was possible to dig sufficient stone for one house, so it was with clay. Brickmakers would dig and bake enough bricks for one house and then move on. The Hall at Upton Cresset must have been built like this in about 1540. No one could possibly have carried enough bricks for this large Tudor house through all the steep, narrow lanes in that part of Shropshire, so the bricks must have been made near by.

As bricks became more popular permanent brickworks were set up. Each little area still had its own variety and colour, depending on where the clay was dug. Whereas the North Shropshire houses were built in red brick, round Madeley and Dawley they were brown or cream. You might be able to trace how far afield those bricks were used, and you might think about what the river and canals had to do with it.

Bricks have been especially useful when men have wanted to build many houses and to build them quickly. This has usually been in towns. Some of the most elegant brick houses have been built 1n towns and that 15 where you might look for them.

When you are exploring a village or town in the West Midlands notice just how many different materials have been used in the buildings in one street. If it is the most important street in that place you will probably find a great variety of materials. In a high street buildings are replaced fairly often and that makes it a good place to look for contrasts. You will almost certainly find different materials and different styles of building there. From these differences you will be able to discover something about the different ages and the different purposes for which the buildings are used today.

Where an old building is being pulled down you can often see its ‘bones’, the framework on which it has been built, exposed and sometimes brick and plaster are torn away to reveal something very different underneath. In the same way, a new building being erected often has a framework which does not show at all when it is completed.

Planning a holiday can be almost as much fun as actually going on one, and just one day out can be a holiday in itself. A good way to begin your planning is to think about what you like doing: the sort of places that you like to visit, and the sort of things that you like to find out about. The next step which you might want to take is to choose just one subject on which to concentrate. This chapter suggests a few places and things to explore by travelling about; you don’t always have to travel very far, and I have included some journeys which could easily be made on foot. .

You might decide that you want to explore one particular place, a village or part of a town, or a parish. Parishes are not the same as villages; they include houses scattered in the country as well as the town or village centre, and some parishes may even have more than one village in them. If you decide to explore a parish you will need to know where the parish boundary is, and this means using a map. The best one for this purpose is the 2% inches to the mile Ordnance Survey map*, and you ought to be able to see this at your local library. It will probably need several sheets to cover a parish, but you may be lucky and get the centre of your village on one sheet. Some libraries and District Council Surveyor’s offices will make photocopies for you, The West Midlands offers both the sort of sports and games Which you can play anywhere in the country, and a few activities that are rather special. The first sort are team games, and the special activities are those which you can undertake by yourself, or with just a few friends.

Just as in other parts of Britain you will find football clubs in all the towns and villages. Some of them play on the village green, but in the larger towns there are football grounds with stands and lighting and all the extras that you would expect. Football teams are everywhere, but with some of the other team games it is rather different. In Gloucestershire you will find that some people play rugby football, Rugby Union that is, not League. If you look in a Sunday newspaper in the winter season and find the scores, you may be surprised at just how many teams there are close to the Severn. Cricket too is played very widely but only ' Gloucestershire and Worcestershire have County Clubs.

Each year when there is a visiting cricket team from overseas, the first full-scale match is always played at Worcester. The ground there is one of the best sited in England, bounded by trees and the River Severn, and with the cathedral towerng over it all. That is where you must go if you want.