Ludlow's recorded history begins in 1086 when the impressive castle was first developed, as one of a line of castles along the Marches to keep out the Welsh. The local Norman overlords, the De Lacy family, who decided to situate Ludlow Castle here also decided to develop a new settlement.
Ludlow was a planned town, and just like the planned towns of the mid 1960's it was developed around a grid network of streets, adapted to fit the local topography. The wide main streets were intersected by narrow side streets, with the flow of people drawn to the centre for the market, church and castle. The area of settlement was probably the wide market place to the east of the castle gates. As the town continued to grow, it joined the ancient north-south road, now called Corve Street to the north and Old Street to the south. Mill Street and Broad Street were added later.The grid nature of the medieval centre of Ludlow is still very obvious today, if you take a stroll down Broad Street or Mill Street you will see several far narrower side streets intersecting them.
From 1233 onwards the town walls were constructed; the Ludlow Castle stood within the circuit of the walls and shared a common line of defence. Four main gates and three postern (secondary) gates were built. Apart from the Castle, Ludlow retains some well-preserved stretches of town wall and the sites of its seven gates can readily be identified. Broad gate, at the bottom of Broad Street is the sole surviving medieval gate. You can see some large sections of the remaining town wall here by walking from Broadgate along Silk Mill Lane towards Mill Street and the site of the town gate here.Ludlow was now a fortified town, one of just over a hundred in England and Wales which had a full circuit of walls. As in most fortified towns, the walls and gates served many purposes other than defence. They were a means of controlling the entry of all sorts of undesirables, many of them far less formidable than invading armies. They enable market tolls to be collected easily and gave support to lean-to buildings. In times of peace they were a ready source of building stone, and continued to exercise a strong influence on the town long after their defensive function had ceased.
Ludlow was a highly successful development. By 1377 it had 1,172 tax-paying residents, which placed it thirty-third in the list of English towns of that date.Ludlow held weekly markets which saw trade and industry develop and produce large amounts of wealth for some of Ludlow's inhabitants. In particular, it served as a centre for the sale of livestock, wool and cloth. The wool trade was very lucrative and as with other wool trading towns a lot of this wealth found its way in to the buildings of the town.Dominating the town centre is the exceptionally fine 15th-century parish church of St. Laurence, with its 41m / 135ft elegant tower, wonderfully carved misericords and stained glass windows, reflecting the town's prosperity as a centre of the wool trade.The level of trade and wealth can be gauged by the development of many of the coaching inns and hotels during the 16th & 17th centuries. The Angel Inn (Broad Street), The Bull Hotel and The Feathers Hotel are all fine examples.Ludlow Market and livestock market are still important to Ludlow's economy, the livestock market is one of the busiest in the country and is a fascinating sight when in full flow every Monday.
Further wealth and importance came Ludlows way when in 1472 Edward IV founded the Council of the Marches and its headquarters at Ludlow Castle. The council was responsible for the administration of two thirds of present day wales and five English counties along the Welsh border. For more information about the history of the Welsh Marches please click here.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Ludlow was a fashionable social centre. County families built elegant Georgian brick houses along the wider medieval streets; which can still be seen in many of the streets most notably Broad Street, Mill Street and Dinham. Plans were even drawn up to build a crescent of homes on top of whitcliffe just like Bath's Royal Crescent!Glove making was now a major industry reaching a peak production of 650,000 gloves in 1814, other industry included light engineering, nail manufacture and textiles. The population grew rapidly in the early 19th century; many back to back buildings were constructed inside the disused town walls. After 1850 there was expansion east and north, into the new housing areas of Gravel Hill, Galdeford and New Road and further developments of the lower end of Corve Street.The railway came to Ludlow in 1853 when Ludlow Railway Station was connected to the Shrewsbury and Hereford line. Many new buildings were built by the railway station to service the railway as well as other developments which made use of the easy access to markets which the railway offered. The most obvious of these today is Marstons Mill. The livestock market was also situated adjacent to the Railway station until it moved to its current location in 1995.
From about 1880 to the 1940's Ludlow stagnated economically, there was very little population growth and the size of the town altered very little. This was due to a number of factors including the decline of the importance of wool in relation to cotton, there were many other towns with easier access to larger markets and raw materials such as coal and the decline in agriculture as a share of the national wealth.Paradoxically this stagnation is now seen to be something of a blessing in disguise; many similarly sized towns had a rapid expansion in population and industry and many old buildings were demolished and redeveloped, Ludlow's town centre has pretty much survived as it was. This accounts for the fact that there are nearly 500 listed buildings in Ludlow and the original medieval street layout survives to this day almost unchanged.
Today, the population of Ludlow is just under 11,000. Industries include precision engineering, cabinet making, and the manufacture of agricultural machinery. The local authority is a large employer in the town, with many people working for the NHS and other government agencies.Tourism is now particularly important, with the town's visitors contributing greatly to the retail and hospitality sectors. Agriculture is also an important part of Ludlow's function as a market town serving a wider rural area, with many of the service industries being heavily reliant on it.