- Medieval Period
Origins of Hereford City
By the mid 8th century the River Wye formed
a border between two culturally distinct entities.
To the south the speakers of early Welsh inhabited
the kingdom of Glywysing and followed the
teachings of the native British church. To
the north the speakers of early English were
subjects of the Mercian kingdom and followed
the practices imported by St Augustine.
To the English speakers, the Celtic speakers
of Britain were Weallus - foreigners - a word
related to Walloon and Vlach, and possibly
implying those people occupying what had previously
been Roman Imperial territories. The western
Celts referred to themselves as Britons -
they came to use also Combrogi - fellow-countrymen,
later the term Cymru - companions was used.
To the British, the English speakers were
Sais. The incomers were mainly two ill-defined
groups - Angles, moving westward from East
Anglia and into Mercia (the 'march' or 'border'),
and Saxons, specifically the West Saxons from
Gloucestershire. After the destruction of
English power in 1066, the British were to
face a new and terrible enemy - y Freinc -
the French, as the Normans were referred to
The origin of Hereford, on the border between
these two peoples, is extremely obscure. One
story is that Hereford was site of the cathedral
of a British bishopric with its origins in
Roman times and transferred from Magnis -
this does not seem likely. Another story,
of the foundation of the church of Caerfawydd
(Hereford) by Gereint son of Erbin, a hero
of Welsh legend, is a forgery by the poet
and antiquary Edward Williams ('Iolo Morganwg',
1747-1826). The modern Welsh name for Hereford
is Henfordd - 'the old way' - and this name
was certainly in use in the later middle ages,
but the story that the earliest name for the
place was Caerfawydd or Trefawydd - 'of the
birch trees' - is also medieval and cannot
park now known as the Castle Green in Hereford
is, as the name suggests, the site of Hereford's
castle. Before the castle was built in the
11th century this was the site of the monastery
of St Guthlac. During two excavations here,
in 1960 and 1973, over 132 skeletons were
found and some of these were carbon 14 dated.
The results suggest that the cemetery may
have been in use as early as the late 7th
or early 8th century.
Victoria Footbridge over the Wye at
Hereford. At this point was the ford
which gave the town its name. John Leland
described this in the early 16th century
- 'by the whiche many passyd over, or
evar the great bridge on Wy at Herford
evidence suggests that there might have
been a settlement in Hereford as long
ago as the Mesolithic period. Other
finds indicate human activity in the
Neolithic and through to the Iron Age.
Roman finds are also fairly common within
the city. People would always have used
the land for something - hunting, grazing
livestock, growing crops, living on.
As a continuous settlement - a place
where numbers of people larger than
family groups live - Hereford's origins
are much more recent.
On the western side of the present city centre,
buried beneath the, later, Mercian defensive
bank, archaeologists discovered grain-drying
kilns dating from the 8th century.
It remains uncertain whether the builders
of the grain-drying kilns or the first people
buried in the cemetery should be considered
'Welsh' or 'English'. What is certain is that
they would not have considered that they were
in such a country as 'Wales' or 'England'.
Although legend says that a certain Putta
was created bishop of Hereford in the late
7th century, there is no contemporary record
of a bishop at that time (the first record
of a bishop of Hereford only dates from 801).
It cannot be proven that the immediate area
of the City of Hereford itself was within
the area governed by the Mercians until well
into the 8th century.
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