Ludlow remains one of England's loveliest country towns and like many others in Shropshire watches over the Welsh Marches. History has left a deep imprint on the town, now a mellow and harmonious mix of medieval, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian architecture. Dominating this English jewel is the huge 15 th century tower of St Lawrence's Church, rising above the ragged battlements of the 11 th century Ludlow Castle, which in its turn gazes down upon the town it has guarded for centuries.
Built between 1086 and 1094 at the instigation of Roger de Lacy, a powerful Norman knight, Ludlow Castle became an English bastion defending the country's western flank against unruly and mutinous Welsh tribes. Constructed of limestone and red sandstone, the site was shrewdly chosen built as it is on raised ground overlooking the River Teme. This ensured that the fortress had towering cliffs on two sides thereby providing natural defence works against would be aggressors. The outer bailey is the size of a sports field and may well have been used as a sanctuary by local townspeople when threatened by Welsh raiders, while the round chapel of St Mary Magdalene, built about 1100, is one of the castle's notable features. The massive red sandstone keep was built up from the original Norman gatehouse tower in the early 12 th century, while the domestic buildings were later 13 th and 14 th century additions. These latter were, for the most part, the work of the Mortimer family who inherited the castle from the de Lacys. The Elizabethan buildings were constructed in the wake of the castle acquiring the prestigious position of seat of the Council of the Marches - set up with the sole purpose of governing and controlling Wales and its savage borderlands. Norman, Plantagenet and Lancastrian kings and princes developed, destroyed and rebuilt Ludlow Castle at varying intervals.
Brought to the castle for their ‘safe-keeping', the two young sons of Edward IV, the doomed ‘Little Princes', grew up here until in 1483, the 12-year old Edward V heard of his father's death and that he was now king. The two brothers left Ludlow but were intercepted during their journey by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester who then escorted them to the Tower of London. The young princes were treacherously murdered in the tower and Gloucester infamously became Richard III, a title tarnished with blood.
Henry VIII's elder brother Prince Arthur came to Ludlow Castle with his wife Catherine of Aragon for their honeymoon - tragically the prince died from pneumonia. After Arthur's sad death at Ludlow the course of English history was changed when Henry married Catherine. The terraced walk around the castle had been laid out by Arthur for Catherine. It was also at Ludlow Castle that the poet John Milton first witnessed the production of his masque ‘Comus' in 1634, based on the real life adventure of three of a Lord Provost's sons who were lost and then found in Ludlow Forest. Throughout the summer months Ludlow hosts a festival of music, drama and art, among the highlights is an open-air production of a Shakespeare play staged in the castle.
The sandstone Church of St Lawrence has a cathedral-like grandeur, being one of the largest parish churches in England with a 135ft high Perpendicular style tower that dominates both town and castle. Although begun in 1199 (some fragments of this period can be seen on the south side) the church mainly dates from the 15 th century. Its special glories are the beautifully carved misericords in the chancel and the glorious east window. Depicting the life of St Lawrence, Ludlow's patron saint, this stained glass splendour has lit up Ludlow Church for more than 500 years in glowing multi-coloured shafts of light. In the churchyard rest the ashes of the poet A E Housman (1859-1936) author of ‘A Shropshire Lad'.
Next to the church, in the Garden of Rest, is the Reader's House, so called because it was the home of the Rector's chief assistant, known in the 18 th century as The Reader. It is a 13 th century medieval building, which has Tudor additions and a three-storey Jacobean porch. Lying just west of the church are Hosier's Almshouses, originally endowed in1486 by a wealthy local wool merchant, John Hosier - the present buildings, however, date from 1758. Situated in the heart of Ludlow's market place is the classically designed Butter Cross. Built in 1746, the building once housed a school, but is now home to the town museum wherein is a geological collection that includes over 20000 fossils. North of the Butter Cross, in the Bull Ring, is the ancient 17 th century Feather's Hotel, one of the finest timber-framed buildings in England. Enlarged in 1619, its façade is a rich profusion of intricate patterns and ornamental carvings, whilst inside are carved overmantels, embossed plaster ceilings and panelling; in the 19 th century an ornate first floor balcony was added.
Ludlow town grew up on the east-side of the castle where its magnificent jumble of medieval, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian houses rub shoulders beneath the watchful gaze of the church. Undoubtedly one of the most interesting streets to visit is Broad Street, where charming old houses cling to the sloping thoroughfare as it plunges down toward the River Teme. Here stands another ancient inn, the Angel, a splendid old coaching inn over 300 years old, where Lord Nelson once stayed in 1802. At the foot of Broad Street, upon which the gaze of black-and-white timber-framed shops and houses fall, is the Broad Gate - built in the 13 th century it remains the only survivor of Ludlow's seven original town gates. Throughout the old town are narrow winding alleyways with charming little antique shops, many leading down to the river where attractive river walks may be had.