On a freezing cold day in mid January we decided to visit Hereford which, although only an hours journey or so away from us, we had never visited. It is the county capital of Herefordshire. The city centre was not very impressive at all and we had the impression much of its ancient architecture had been destroyed in the ’60’s and ’70’s, exactly the same as had happened to our county town Shrewsbury. A few gems remained but there were an awful lot of ugly building around them.
But on a day with sleet and wet snow showers we were here to see the Cathedral. We first sited the cathedral as we walked up a narrow cobbled street with local artisan shops lining each side. The Cathedral School buildings clustered around the entrance gateway to the Cathedral Close so uniformed school children busily and hastily crossed the close in every direction.
Edward Elgar, composer, is celebrated with this beautiful bronze statue so full of character, where he leans back on his old Samson bicycle admiring the cathedral.
A single raindrop had settled itself right on the end of his nose, and hung ready to drip onto his magnificent moustache.
Close to the main Cathedral entrance a recent oak framed building housed the workshop of the stone mason. Masons are constantly kept busy on repairs to stonework in every cathedral around the country.
The Dioscese of Hereford was founded in 676 and the first Cathedral dedicated to King Ethelbert was built in 794. Ethelbert was to become a martyr and the Cathedral dedicated to him became a place of pilgrimage. His bones stored at the Cathedral became a centre of a pilgrimage. A new Cathedral was built between 1020 and 1040 but in 1075 was destroyed by the Welsh.
Thus major rebuilding work followed between 1107 and 1158 in the Norman style, still much in evidence today. So the Cathedral today contains examples of architectural styles from the Norman period right up to the current time.
The main way into the Cathedral is through a huge stone porch. Inside massive oak doors were well furnished with iron hinges and a lion headed door knocker.
Once inside the incredible height of the building became apparent with wide intricately carved stone pillars leading the eye up to an incredibly beautifully carved and painted vaulted ceiling.
It is unusual to see such colour in an Anglican building in this country. We were soon to discover that this building had been very colourfully decorated as we found original examples. Hereford Cathedral is a fine example of English Gothic church architecture. Within it we were to find colour in its stained glass windows, in the tiles on its floor, on wood carvings and in fabric.
The first example we found was the decoration in orange and red around this tiny stone window but we were soon to find even more colour in the mosaic patterning around the base of the carved stone font.
Probably one of the newest examples of colourful craftwork to be found was on the intricately embroidered kneelers hanging from the seats.
We found many examples of detailed and richly painted carvings in both stone and wood.
Before we finish part one of our visit to Hereford Cathedral we shall look down at our feet to admire the colourful, patterned tiles.
All this ancient delicate craft needs protecting from the damp and cold. Several of these huge, iron, pot-bellied oil burners were working hard to do this. In part two we shall look at carvings in stone and artistry in glass and in words on paper.