Ludlow TOWN with Nicholas Crane


Ludlow

Series celebrating the forgotten world of the town. An English market town on the Welsh border, Ludlow is landlocked and remote. Nicholas Crane discovers its treasures.


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Transcript


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I've seen towns explode into cities.

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I've seen towns with their hearts ripped out. Every town has its own tales of triumph and catastrophe.

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All of them face challenges.

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As a geographer, that towns are the communities of the future.

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Towns will be the places we want to live.

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By 2030, a staggering 92% of us will be living the urban life.

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Congested cities sprawl across our map.

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But cities don't have all the answers.

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I believe we need to fall back in love with the places that first quickened our pulses, towns.

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Smaller than a city, more intimate, much greener, more surprising.

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Towns are where we learned to be urban.

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They are the building blocks of our civilisation.

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Coastal towns, market towns, river towns, industrial towns.

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Collectively, they bind our land together.

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This is the story of towns, but it's also our story - where we came from,

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how we live and where we might be going.

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This is Ludlow, an English country town on the Welsh border.

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Population 10,400, it is land-locked, remote.

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And yet it's a vibrant market town with more listed buildings than anywhere else its size in Britain,

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with not one but two Michelin-starred restaurants, and a fairy-tale castle,

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a town that operated for over 200 years as the capital of Wales.

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I want to discover how such a cut-off town came to be packed

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with so many treasures, to find out how it prospers against the odds, in the 21st century,

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and above all to decide whether Ludlow really is as perfect as it appears.

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To understand any town, you have to understand the landscape that surrounds it.

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This is the beautiful countryside of south Shropshire.

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Remote and unspoilt, it is one of the least populated areas in the whole of England.

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'That's us winding up for take-off.

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'Stick back, full power.'

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Ho-ho! What an amazing sensation!

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Whoa! Whoa! Wow! That's amazing!

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This view is unbelievable!

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This cockpit, this canopy, gives you a fantastic view of the landscape.

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Beneath me is the Long Mynd,

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a forbidding ridge of hills eight-miles-long and nearly 2,000 feet high,

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part of the Marches, the rugged borderland between England and Wales.

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I've hiked over the Long Mynd loads of times, I've never seen it from this angle, right above it.

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It looks completely different, this great breaking wave between the wild rugged uplands of Wales,

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which I can see over to the west, and the low green English pastures.

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As the high, uncultivated ground gives way to lower, tended farmland,

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there are the first hints of what lies ahead.

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When you look down from the sky, you see lines everywhere,

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all over the landscape, rivers, roads, railways,

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and they're all leading in one direction, towards the local market town, Ludlow.

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Beneath me now is some of England's richest farmland.

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When you're flying above a landscape, you can read it like a book.

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Brilliant.

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And there it is,

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emerging like a jewel in a sea of green,

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an isolated town of just over 10,000 people.

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Fascinating to be flying above Ludlow.

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I've gazed at it so much from maps.

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It's like an urban island surrounded by rolling green countryside.

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This remote urban island, more than 40 miles from the nearest motorway or airport,

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seems unsuited to life in the 21st century.

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And yet it's a busy market town with a thriving local economy,

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a town which acts as a magnet for tourists and shoppers alike,

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a town that painters and writers have adored.

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John Betjeman said...

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On the surface, it has the look of perfection.

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But is it really, I wonder, as perfect as it seems?

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Ludlow is dominated by its castle, one of the largest in any small town in Britain.

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But that's not the only thing that makes it unusual.

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After the Normans invaded England, they subdued the local population

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by building hundreds of castles in settlements both large and small.

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But when they built this castle around 1085,

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there was nothing here, no settlement of any kind.

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So, why build a castle here?

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Well, because out there...was the wild west, a rugged wilderness,

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hiding people the Normans regarded as a war-like enemy.

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These days we call it Wales.

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Right from the start, the identity and the purpose of Ludlow

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were defined by its relationship with the surrounding countryside.

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The castle, perched high on cliffs that plunge down to the river,

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was built to dominate both countryside and people.

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But for the Normans, using force to control enemy territory was an expensive business.

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There was, they thought, another way.

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Commerce.

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Ludlow evolved from a military base into an economic one.

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Wales could be brought on side, not by the arrows and spears

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stacked inside this fortress, but by an open space out there.

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If the castle was Ludlow's mailed fist, then the market square soon became its beating heart.

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And it still is.

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Shoppers have been searching for bargains right here for nearly a thousand years.

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Talk about connecting with the past, Ludlow's strong on continuity.

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The medieval market was held on a Thursday, just like today's, but it was a much more rowdy affair.

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Sellers used to advertise their products by crying their wares,

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shouting advertisements at the top of their voices.

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Sometimes they were even fined for physically grabbing passers-by.

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It's all become...more civilised these days. Ludlow's polite.

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This is Ludlow's twice-monthly produce market.

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It started just over ten years ago,

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not long before Ludlow became the UK's first "Cittaslow" town.

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Cittaslow, or "slow city", originated in Orvieto in Italy

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and is all about quality of life and a belief that towns thrive on local produce.

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With its perfect bread-basket location,

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Ludlow was the natural birthplace for a foodie renaissance.

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Have a taste, try it.

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It's got a very hot afterburn.

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-Oh!

-Nice with a glass of white wine, rocket salad,

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-a few pickled gherkins.

-I wish I wasn't wearing a scarf, I'm about to catch fire!

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Do you come to every Ludlow market?

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Every first Thursday and last Thursday of the month.

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Is this a way of earning money, or is it a hobby?

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My wife's an accountant, so she wouldn't let me do it if we weren't making money.

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-Does the market here make sense to you commercially?

-Oh, absolutely.

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Commercially and socially if you like, because we enjoy it.

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And what's so special about Ludlow market?

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The town is good, the people are good, it's a relaxed market.

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The organisers are pretty wonderful.

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So it all gels up to a brilliant market.

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But brilliant markets don't just happen, not in the 21st century.

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Markets were once a defining characteristic of every British town, but now they're a rare breed.

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Shropshire Council is spending £3.5m to revitalise all its market towns.

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In Ludlow today, the market's managers are gathering data

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which will help them keep the market commercially healthy.

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Like a good geographer, I'm going to help with the survey.

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I've got my questionnaire, I'm ready for action.

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-I've come from Pattingham between Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton.

-Shrewsbury postcode, SY3.

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I've come from Clee St Margaret, about 15 minutes away.

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-15 minutes, you might have walked.

-No! Not if you've seen the hills.

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It's a much more fun way to shop.

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You can talk to the producers and get some great stuff here.

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It's a sort of treat, I would say, to come to the market on Thursday.

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People are coming to Ludlow market from far and wide, buyers and sellers alike.

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It's a great day out, it's a lovely atmosphere. It's a place that's doing a roaring trade.

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The information gathered here today will influence how the market is promoted

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and measure its contribution to the town's local economy.

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This programme of revitalisation seems to be working.

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Ludlow's a remote town with a small resident population.

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To prosper, it has to draw people in from outside.

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It may be that cut-off places like this have to work harder,

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make themselves more attractive than towns which are perhaps better connected.

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By seeking excellence, perfection even, Ludlow's doing what it's always had to do to survive.

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I think that Ludlow's resilience,

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its ability to prosper through the centuries,

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has a lot to do with a profound sense of place.

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It has deep roots and a long history that's still conspicuous.

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Many of its houses still occupy the same plots, known as "burgages",

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that were laid out in medieval times.

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And the symmetrical grid pattern of streets that still defines

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the heart of modern Ludlow has hardly changed in 800 years.

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In the early 1300s, a special tax was raised

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to pay for a defensive wall that ran around the whole town.

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It defined Ludlow, fixed it on the landscape

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and gave the town its enduring sense of place.

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The wall is now gone, but one of its great gates,

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and one of Ludlow's architectural gems, remains.

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Broad Gate welcomed the town's friends,

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incoming traders who paid taxes, and deterred its enemies.

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This is an amazing survival.

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It's been standing here for over 700 years, and it's still one of the major roads into Ludlow.

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Most of our towns have lost their medieval walls and gates.

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They've been swept away by modern buildings and road widening.

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But this one is still here.

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Whenever the borderlands reverted to a war zone,

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a portcullis would be slammed down this slot,

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sealing the town from the outside world, turning it into an urban fortress.

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It would have been virtually impregnable.

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The cost of building these gates was formidable, and the cost of maintaining them.

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But there's a reason.

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Inside the town were vital assets - not just of population,

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but buildings, goods, and money.

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This was the nerve-centre of a rapidly expanding market economy.

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But one commodity in particular was sucking so much cash through the town's gates

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that work soon began on a major redevelopment project,

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an ambitious rebuild of what has always been a barometer of any medieval town's prosperity,

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the parish church.

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This is spectacular.

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If it seems out of scale for a remote rural town, it is.

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It's one of the largest parish churches in the country.

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It's sometimes known as the Cathedral of the Marches.

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To raise a church this magnificent, you needed faith.

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But you also needed money - lots of it.

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Ludlow was enjoying a source of revenue

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that turned its merchants into the oligarchs of the medieval world.

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And here's a fascinating clue hidden amongst these misericords.

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They were installed to take the weight off the legs

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of medieval clergy and choirs during immensely long church services.

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But look at this one here.

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It shows a porter pulling on one of his boots at the start of a long journey by road,

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and on his back a bale of cloth.

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Now, at the time, woollen cloth, known as Ludlow white,

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was fetching very good prices in London.

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It's said that this church was built on the backs of sheep,

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because the source of this town's wealth...was wool.

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The super-commodity of the Middle Ages, wool, was England's biggest export,

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and the area round Ludlow was one of the best places in the country for sheep-rearing.

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And today, sheep are still at the heart of Ludlow's economy.

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Are you counting, Nick?

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SHEPHERD WHISTLES

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This is the weekly auction at Ludlow livestock market.

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Like all the sellers here today, Bill Wathes needs to maximise the price he'll get for his 150 sheep.

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-If you hold the gate, and when I say open, open it up.

-Yeah.

-So, we'll have him out.

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Livestock markets were once a common sight in British towns,

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but over 500 have closed in the last few decades.

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Ludlow's has not only survived, though.

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It's become one of the biggest in the UK.

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Nearly 3,000 sheep will be sold here in the next few hours.

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Right, 55 kilos to start.

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AUCTIONEER SHOUTS

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What's the secret of a successful livestock market?

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I'm the wrong man to ask. Ask the managing director of the company.

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-Why do you support it?

-Because we get good prices.

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There's competition for all the stock you bring, which is good.

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Sellers need competition. It's no good having one or two men to buy your sheep.

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That doesn't become an auction.

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The prices you've heard in the last few minutes, it's looking good for you?

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-Yes, yes, it's acceptable.

-You're not smiling yet.

-I don't want to let them know too much!

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When they come to my sheep, I'll be shaking my head saying, "This is no good, this is no good."

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This is an amazing experience. I've never been to a livestock market before

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and it says a lot about the health of Ludlow.

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There's a hubbub here of buyers and sellers all desperate for the best price.

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HUBBUB AND SHOUTING

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You had a bidding war going on there.

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That's what you want.

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See the difference between the best pen from then on.

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That's 247 then we're down to 218.

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Overall, going down your numbers, is that good?

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Yes, very pleased with that.

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Animals have been bought and sold in Ludlow for nearly 1,000 years.

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In recent times, new buyers have opened up surprising new markets.

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These are cull ewes, too old for lambing and,

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until a few years ago, worth almost nothing.

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But buyers like Mohammed Akram, have changed all that.

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He runs one of Europe's biggest halal meat businesses,

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worth over £20 million a year,

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supplying Britain's Asian and West Indian communities with mutton.

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Trying to have a conversation with someone who's busy buying sheep with his eyebrows!

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-How many sheep are you buying a year?

-9,000 to 10,000 a week.

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-9,000 to 10,000?

-Nearly half a million a year.

-A year?!

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-And what kind of meals will they be made into?

-Kebabs, curries.

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OK.

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How long have you been buying mutton for halal meat?

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I started myself in '82.

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MAN SHOUTS OVER CONVERSATION

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ALL SPEAK TOGETHER

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He's a bad man, he is!

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Mohammed Akram, makes the 100-mile round trip from Birmingham every week,

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and his halal business contributes significantly

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to Ludlow's flourishing, multi-million-pound livestock trade.

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Traditionally, buyers and sellers would have travelled

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only a short distance to their local livestock market.

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But with so many other markets in the region closing down,

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Ludlow is prospering by extending its reach to a much wider orbit.

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I'm going to conduct my own statistical survey,

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to find out where everybody's come from.

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I've got a box of pins and I've got a map.

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So down here is Hereford, up here is Shrewsbury,

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on the right, Birmingham and the Black Country,

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on the left hand side, the uplands of Wales and slap in the middle, Ludlow.

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Right, who's first?

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We're trying to find out where everybody's come from today.

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Our map gives a 35-mile radius round Ludlow.

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It means the place names are rather small but we'll manage.

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Culmington.

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-Where?

-Culmington.

-So we've got Ludlow in the middle here.

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I haven't got my glasses. Culmington, up the A49 to Shrewsbury.

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Much Wenlock?

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It's only here somewhere. 36 mile out.

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I come for the Heath, it's only about 10 miles from here.

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By Leominster, not far away. just north from Ludlow.

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So, we've got Ludlow, there's Leominster, isn't it?

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Yeah, roughly there, I would say so.

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-Hi there.

-Where have you come from.

-Aberystwyth.

-Aberystwyth?

-Yeah.

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That's not even on my map.

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We've got Ludlow here, Aberystwyth is over on the coast of Wales.

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I'm going to stick this on the edge of the map. Aberystwyth is over by that window.

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I told you the wrong place. It's Craven Arms apparently.

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So where are you really? How long have you been here?

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-I got confused between north and south.

-You've forgotten where you come from!

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I come from Cumbria this morning.

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-Cumbria!

-That's right, every Monday to the auction.

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Well, you've come so far, I can't even put your pin in the map,

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-cos it's up on the second storey of the building.

-I know that.

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-Thank you very much indeed.

-You're welcome.

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On this scale of map, Cumbria is way above the ceiling,

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so I'm going to have to stick it in the margin instead.

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What's absolutely fascinating, is that people are coming from such enormous distances to Ludlow.

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One guy's driven from Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales.

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He comes every week.

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The chap I've just met comes from Cumbria every Monday

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to buy here in Ludlow.

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So, although there's a cluster of pins in a radius

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of about 10 miles round Ludlow,

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people I've met this morning,

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there are still people who're coming 100-150 miles to get here.

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Absolutely fascinating that the reach of this relatively small market town,

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is so enormous.

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The key to this success lies in the huge radius of superb farmland around Ludlow,

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farmland that has been nurturing the town since it began.

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In medieval times, the rewards of wool were so immense,

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they gave rise to a new breed of middle-class merchants.

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Stokesay Castle was built in the 1290s by Laurence de Ludlow,

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a local wool merchant whose wealth put him on a par with the feudal aristocracy.

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He was so rich, he even lent money to the King.

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He wrote...

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Laurence's showpiece was this spectacular great hall.

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700 years ago, people in the Ludlow area

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would've been utterly astonished by an internal space of this scale.

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Back then it was normal practice to hold up roofs this heavy

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using central timber posts, but Laurence went one better.

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He created a self supporting timber roof.

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It was held up on an massive timber crux,

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which curved all the way down and rested on these stone corbels.

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The bottoms of the original timbers have rotted away now

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and been replaced by sections of stone.

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You get the general idea.

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It would've been like standing inside the upturned hull of an ocean-going ship.

0:26:330:26:38

Any of Laurence's fellow merchants, courtiers from London,

0:26:380:26:42

politicians walking in here, would've been left in no doubt at all

0:26:420:26:47

that it's architect was stinking rich.

0:26:470:26:50

Laurence and his fellow wool merchants transformed Ludlow.

0:26:580:27:02

Behind the facades on one of the towns original thoroughfares, Broad Street,

0:27:020:27:08

are the ghosts of the medieval super homes they built.

0:27:080:27:12

In the time of Laurence de Ludlow and his like,

0:27:120:27:15

one third of the houses on this extraordinary street

0:27:150:27:18

belonged to wool merchants, cloth sellers and drapers.

0:27:180:27:22

Wool just didn't build Stokesay Castle,

0:27:220:27:25

it built this street and it built the town.

0:27:250:27:28

Ludlow's wool trade made it into one of the richest towns in Britain.

0:27:350:27:40

But in the 1470s, this town of commerce

0:27:400:27:44

also became a town of political power,

0:27:440:27:47

with a new role on the national stage.

0:27:470:27:49

For as long as anybody could remember,

0:27:500:27:53

Wales had been a security problem to the English.

0:27:530:27:56

Eventually, the decision was taken to try and control Wales,

0:27:560:27:59

not from London,

0:27:590:28:00

but from a strategic base midway along the border

0:28:000:28:03

between the two countries.

0:28:030:28:05

That place was Ludlow.

0:28:050:28:07

Overnight, this country town became a royal town

0:28:070:28:11

and the headquarters of a new institution.

0:28:110:28:14

The Council of the Marches.

0:28:140:28:16

Ludlow, in English eyes, became the capital of Wales.

0:28:160:28:20

Ludlow's Castle became a sort of grand corporate headquarters

0:28:240:28:28

for the new institution.

0:28:280:28:31

The lavish Judges' Lodgings, completed in the 1580s,

0:28:310:28:35

housed the lawyers who dealt with the court cases of Wales. A nice little earner.

0:28:350:28:40

Somehow, it's always the lawyers who prosper.

0:28:460:28:49

One council attorney turned his house, now the Feathers Hotel,

0:28:520:28:57

into a 17th-century gem.

0:28:570:29:00

The lawyer's name was, Rees Jones.

0:29:000:29:03

Rees, really wanted to be remembered.

0:29:030:29:06

Look at this personalised lock that he fitted to his house 400 years ago.

0:29:060:29:11

It's got an R and a J. Rees Jones, and below it, IJ.

0:29:110:29:15

Isobel Jones, his wife.

0:29:150:29:17

And between the two of them, a tiny little love heart.

0:29:170:29:20

A valentine's note from the distant past.

0:29:200:29:23

What a fantastic room.

0:29:300:29:33

It's oozing with opulence, and just look at this.

0:29:340:29:39

This is the coat of arms of James I with the English lion,

0:29:390:29:43

the Scottish unicorn and down here, the feathers of the Prince of Wales.

0:29:430:29:48

What Rees Jones wanted was for everybody who came in this room

0:29:480:29:52

to know that he was a loyal subject of the crown.

0:29:520:29:55

Loyal also to the Council of the Marches.

0:29:550:29:58

What's so fascinating about Rees Jones,

0:29:580:30:00

is that he wasn't a member of the local aristocracy,

0:30:000:30:03

he wasn't an English blow-in either.

0:30:030:30:05

He was as you've guessed from his name, born in Wales.

0:30:050:30:09

He was the second son of a farmer in Pembrokeshire.

0:30:090:30:12

Being second, he was never going to inherit the farm,

0:30:120:30:15

so he had to be sent away to make his own fortune.

0:30:150:30:17

He came here, he worked as a clerk to the Council of the Marches,

0:30:170:30:21

then became an attorney.

0:30:210:30:22

After that, became one of the richest men in Ludlow.

0:30:220:30:26

What the Rees Jones story tells us, is that Ludlow's relationship with Wales had changed entirely

0:30:260:30:31

from being a border fortress intended to keep the Welsh at bay,

0:30:310:30:35

it had changed into a centre of government,

0:30:350:30:38

a centre of justice that had opened its gates to folk on both sides of the border.

0:30:380:30:43

The Council of the Marches closed in 1689.

0:31:020:31:07

Some predicted disaster after this change of fortune.

0:31:070:31:10

But Ludlow hadn't forgotten its commercial roots.

0:31:100:31:15

Even today, the town has managed to preserve an impressive number

0:31:150:31:18

of independent shops.

0:31:180:31:20

Butchers, bakers, veg shops, a traditional hardware shop.

0:31:200:31:25

Even an old-fashioned book binders, harking back to a vanished age.

0:31:260:31:33

With its independent shops, its markets,

0:31:340:31:37

its traditional, old-fashioned town centre,

0:31:370:31:39

you won't be surprised to hear there are almost no chains here in Ludlow.

0:31:390:31:44

There's no McDonald's or Burger King, no Next or Top Shop,

0:31:440:31:48

no Currys or HMV.

0:31:480:31:50

In fact, almost all of those familiar shop signs

0:31:500:31:54

you see repeated from High Street to High Street across the land,

0:31:540:31:57

are absent here in Ludlow.

0:31:570:32:00

So the last thing you expect to see is one of these.

0:32:000:32:04

Now, I'm no fan of supermarkets.

0:32:080:32:11

They're a kind of retailing smart bomb,

0:32:110:32:14

exploding over our town centres, leaving clusters of shops

0:32:140:32:18

apparently undamaged, but emptied of goods, traders and customers.

0:32:180:32:25

But the story of this supermarket is a surprising one,

0:32:250:32:28

a David and Goliath tale of the little town that triumphed over the corporate giant.

0:32:280:32:34

At first, the developers wanted to build a new supermarket on the ring road,

0:32:340:32:39

a move supported by many in the town

0:32:390:32:41

because it would both provide them with the store,

0:32:410:32:44

and yet keep it out of the historic centre.

0:32:440:32:47

But the town's planners saw danger in creating a rival hub

0:32:470:32:50

that could draw shoppers out of town, possibly killing Ludlow stone dead.

0:32:500:32:56

So they gave permission to build the new supermarket right here,

0:32:560:33:00

on Corve Street, one of the historic roads into town.

0:33:000:33:04

And Ludlow's tough stance on getting what it wanted didn't end there.

0:33:070:33:12

Initial designs for the store were rejected because they were too conventional.

0:33:120:33:17

But after a public inquiry and several years of haggling, the town got the design it wanted.

0:33:170:33:24

Steven Cherry led the team from MJP Architects, who were charged

0:33:240:33:30

with delivering a modern building sympathetic to Ludlow's past.

0:33:300:33:35

Ludlow is a historic old town,

0:33:350:33:36

which originally started in the 11th century around the castle here, with its castle wall.

0:33:360:33:42

Then, as the town expanded it grew, in the 13th century, another wall around the town,

0:33:420:33:47

which captured the inhabitants here.

0:33:470:33:49

And then in the 20th century, the local plan boundary, which is this blue chain line here,

0:33:490:33:55

went as far as Station Drive, which is what we're on, and we thought it would be a good idea to then capture

0:33:550:34:00

the end of the High Street and create a new 20th-century town wall.

0:34:000:34:04

This does feel like the edge of a fortified town still.

0:34:040:34:09

-What happens round the corner, where we've got a shopping street?

-I'll show you.

0:34:090:34:17

It's not just Ludlow's streets that still follow the original medieval pattern.

0:34:170:34:22

The buildings themselves occupy the same plots that were laid out

0:34:220:34:26

with the birth of the town 900 years ago.

0:34:260:34:30

They're called burgages,

0:34:300:34:32

and they had strict dimensions,

0:34:320:34:35

always 16.5 feet wide.

0:34:350:34:38

The physical memory of these plots creates a kind of architectural rhythm along the street,

0:34:400:34:45

which is key to the town's harmonious character.

0:34:450:34:50

So if we stop here, Nick, and just turn round and look up the High Street,

0:34:510:34:57

the new town wall turns the corner into Corve Street here,

0:34:570:35:01

lowers itself to reveal the store, but then the roof is floating. It's sails up,

0:35:010:35:08

going up the hill, and as the roof floats up, it sits on top of what we call the last burgage plot

0:35:080:35:13

as it cascades down the street, and that burgage plot goes back through into the store.

0:35:130:35:20

You'll also notice on the right hand side that there are exposed gables as the buildings change in scale

0:35:200:35:26

going up and so it was important that we related to that, with the little lantern

0:35:260:35:31

that pops up there - it's like a gable facing us and it has a conversation with the church tower.

0:35:310:35:37

Yes, I see that. I like the idea of a supermarket and a church

0:35:370:35:41

having an architectural chat to each other across the rooftops.

0:35:410:35:45

The architectural quest for harmony between supermarket and town extends to the surrounding countryside.

0:35:450:35:53

And you see the shape of the roof, that we talked about rising up Corve Street,

0:35:530:35:58

is also mirroring the landscape in the background.

0:35:580:36:01

-You see the hills, the way that they step down to the rooftops here?

-Yes, yes.

0:36:010:36:05

So when you arrive into Ludlow from the train or from the car park,

0:36:050:36:09

you relate the building and the form of the building to the landscape beyond.

0:36:090:36:14

I've never seen anything like it.

0:36:140:36:16

Why, given how many supermarkets there are in British towns, can we not take this much care

0:36:160:36:23

over them all and blend them into the townscape, harmonise them? Why can't we do it with them all?

0:36:230:36:28

I wish I had the answer for that, but the result of this one is because somebody went through

0:36:280:36:33

eight or nine years of pain before they got to this point,

0:36:330:36:37

and we shouldn't have to wait or go through that pain. Lessons should be learned on day one.

0:36:370:36:41

In a town with around 500 listed buildings, you'd expect great architecture at every corner.

0:36:560:37:03

But Ludlow's definitive thoroughfare is Broad Street.

0:37:030:37:08

"It is unforgettable,"

0:37:080:37:10

wrote the architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor,

0:37:100:37:14

"One of the best in England."

0:37:140:37:16

The town's wool merchants had their grand medieval dwellings here.

0:37:190:37:23

But it was the cash-rich gentry of the 18th century who really left their mark.

0:37:230:37:31

In the era of Britain's great spa towns - Bath, Buxton, Cheltenham -

0:37:310:37:35

Ludlow became the high-fashion leisure town of the Marches.

0:37:350:37:40

Here at number 27, two houses were demolished to make way for the largest house on the street.

0:37:440:37:50

A house that today is undergoing the latest makeover in its long history.

0:37:500:37:56

If I'd been here in the early 1740s on exactly the same spot,

0:37:580:38:03

I'd also have been standing on scaffolding.

0:38:030:38:07

Not this sturdy steel stuff,

0:38:080:38:12

but a tottering pile of timber.

0:38:120:38:15

Everything else would have been the same - the grit, the dust,

0:38:150:38:19

the bustle of busy workmen, and Broad Street would have been a building site, too.

0:38:190:38:24

Any number of houses being extended, remodelled, gentrified for a new moneyed class.

0:38:240:38:31

They had names straight out of Jane Austen.

0:38:340:38:38

The Baldwins of Munslow and Croft, the Dunnes of Gatley Court, the Sprotts of Much Wenlock.

0:38:380:38:46

And they built in style.

0:38:460:38:49

"Gracious" is the word that comes to mind.

0:38:510:38:54

Look as these wonderfully warm, red-brick facades,

0:38:540:38:58

and the symmetrically spaced sash windows,

0:38:580:39:01

the timber door-cases and the half-moon fanlights.

0:39:010:39:07

Down here, number 39, has been fitted with Venetian windows, which

0:39:070:39:10

must have let in huge amounts of natural light.

0:39:100:39:13

Individually, each of these houses has its own character,

0:39:130:39:17

but they give the street a wonderful harmony.

0:39:170:39:20

A reason it's been called the most beautiful street in England.

0:39:200:39:24

One of the street's gems is Broadgate House, an elegant Georgian residence

0:39:290:39:34

built above the last remaining medieval gate into town.

0:39:340:39:39

The hall and the staircase speak of prosperity and good taste.

0:39:400:39:47

And up these stairs is an extraordinary clue that reveals

0:39:470:39:52

how Ludlow began to construct itself as the perfect country town.

0:39:520:39:58

And here it is, hidden away, painted on a wooden panel in a first-floor bedroom.

0:39:580:40:05

At first glance, it's a charming portrait of Ludlow and the surrounding countryside.

0:40:050:40:11

But look more closely and all is not quite as it seems.

0:40:110:40:15

You've got the castle there

0:40:150:40:16

and balanced symmetrically on the other side of the painting,

0:40:160:40:20

this fantasy construction of masonry and rock.

0:40:200:40:23

The river's a bit odd as well.

0:40:230:40:25

It looks like a religious painting of one of the rivers of Paradise.

0:40:250:40:29

Those villages shining silver in the sun don't exist either.

0:40:290:40:34

They're fantasy objects, so they create the sense that Ludlow,

0:40:340:40:38

the matriarch, is gazing out across this verdant plain,

0:40:380:40:42

populated by its children, the little villages.

0:40:420:40:46

Those gentlemen up there and the lady are wearing 18th-century dress,

0:40:460:40:51

but the peasants down here could be medieval

0:40:510:40:54

or have stepped out of a Bruegel painting in the 16th century.

0:40:540:40:58

It's a composite painting, a fantasy.

0:40:580:41:00

This is Ludlow as Paradise, painted over 200 years ago.

0:41:000:41:05

This is the beginning of the myth of Ludlow as the perfect town.

0:41:050:41:11

With its perfect look and its high-society residents,

0:41:170:41:21

Georgian Ludlow was the right town in the right place, ideally positioned to grab a slice

0:41:210:41:29

of a new emerging business, one that now dominates the global economy - tourism.

0:41:290:41:36

When the writer Daniel Defoe rode by in the early 1700s, he described the castle's situation,

0:41:400:41:48

set back on its grassy lawn, as "most beautiful indeed",

0:41:480:41:52

while the castle itself, he decided, was "the very perfection of decay".

0:41:520:41:57

Defoe's book, A Tour Through The Whole Island Of Great Britain,

0:41:570:42:00

helped to put Ludlow on the tourist trail and the castle was the big attraction.

0:42:000:42:07

How very Ludlow.

0:42:070:42:09

Even the ruins reach perfection!

0:42:090:42:12

The town was soon on the painters' circuit, the artists drawn, then as now,

0:42:120:42:17

to the same view so seductively rendered on that wooden panel in Broadgate House.

0:42:170:42:24

But were they painting reality

0:42:240:42:26

or a romantic fantasy of the perfect country town?

0:42:260:42:30

Close to my heart is a painting of this classic Ludlow view from the early 1930s.

0:42:320:42:38

The professional artist who painted it was Freda Marston.

0:42:380:42:42

She was my great-aunt,

0:42:450:42:47

and her painting has hung above my desk at home for the last 30 years.

0:42:470:42:53

But I wonder if she too, idealised the view in the pursuit of perfection?

0:42:530:42:59

I've always wanted to find the precise spot

0:43:050:43:09

that my great-aunt planted her easel,

0:43:090:43:12

partly because it's a painting that has always meant so much to me

0:43:120:43:16

and partly because I've always wondered whether or not it's an imagined view,

0:43:160:43:22

whether she moved things around or embellished it.

0:43:220:43:25

I do know that she can't have been standing here because this path is still too high up.

0:43:250:43:31

The battlements need to poke above the skyline.

0:43:310:43:34

A little bit lower down.

0:43:420:43:45

This is quite steep, so she didn't take the easy option,

0:43:450:43:48

but then she was looking for the perfect composition.

0:43:480:43:51

So, it's about...

0:43:550:43:57

She was about here.

0:43:590:44:03

Very difficult to see, but from here, I can just about make out

0:44:030:44:08

the castle battlements poking above the skyline.

0:44:080:44:11

Down there, the river is receding through the central arch of the bridge.

0:44:110:44:17

So it's not an imagined view.

0:44:190:44:22

This is a real place.

0:44:220:44:24

Today, what brings the tourists to Ludlow in their thousands

0:44:390:44:43

is not just its picture-perfect location.

0:44:430:44:46

It's the food.

0:44:460:44:48

In 1995, Ludlow took on yet another new identity.

0:44:500:44:55

A food festival in the castle proved a huge success,

0:44:550:44:59

and the same year the town got its first Michelin-starred restaurant.

0:44:590:45:03

With its fresh-from-the-fields produce, and its architectural charms,

0:45:030:45:08

Ludlow quickly became the foodie capital of the Marches.

0:45:080:45:12

La Becasse is one of two Michelin-star restaurants in the town today.

0:45:180:45:24

There are big cities in Britain - Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester among them -

0:45:240:45:28

with no Michelin restaurants at all.

0:45:280:45:31

So for an isolated country town to have two is an incredible achievement.

0:45:310:45:36

La Becasse's young head chef, Will Holland,

0:45:380:45:41

got his Michelin star in 2009, and was catapulted to culinary stardom.

0:45:410:45:46

He was recently named one of the UK's top ten chefs.

0:45:460:45:51

Do you want to get stuck in with this, Nick?

0:45:510:45:54

All I need you to do is just pick the leaf off.

0:45:540:45:57

It's a very lowly task which even I might be able to manage.

0:45:570:46:00

How does a small place like Ludlow come to have two Michelin-starred restaurants?

0:46:000:46:06

It's always had this fantastic reputation for food and Michelin stars always make headlines.

0:46:060:46:13

They're always there in the big, bright lights,

0:46:130:46:15

but there's a lot more to Ludlow than just that.

0:46:150:46:19

It's the foodie culture of the town, and what's always attracted that,

0:46:190:46:24

but it is remarkable. The population's only 10,000 and there's two Michelin-star restaurants here.

0:46:240:46:29

It's kind of like...

0:46:290:46:31

It's a foodie theme park, Nick.

0:46:310:46:33

And how much of your produce is local?

0:46:330:46:37

A lot. I've got fantastic local suppliers that I've got a really, really good relationship with.

0:46:370:46:42

I buy quails' eggs from two miles from the restaurant.

0:46:420:46:47

In the UK, probably about 95% of quails' eggs come from France,

0:46:470:46:51

but mine come from two miles down the road, so that's a fantastic thing to sing about.

0:46:510:46:56

I open the back door of my kitchen and look out onto the largest larder in the world.

0:46:560:47:01

-Shropshire.

-Exactly, Shropshire.

-I wouldn't get a job here, would I?

0:47:010:47:05

It's taken me 20 minutes to do about ten stalks.

0:47:050:47:08

I wouldn't like to work out your hourly rate at that speed!

0:47:080:47:11

-I'll speed up.

-I'm all right because my venison is just getting better

0:47:140:47:17

because essentially it's hanging, but your parsley is wilting.

0:47:170:47:21

I'm really impressed by what Will is doing here.

0:47:300:47:34

This quest for perfection is intoxicating. It's very appealing.

0:47:340:47:39

It's an attractive journey to set out on, and he's doing it, and it ties in, it's in tune

0:47:390:47:47

with what Ludlow is about - the perfect castle, the perfect architecture, the perfect church.

0:47:470:47:54

It's almost too good to be true and, deep down,

0:47:540:47:58

you know, you absolutely know, that nowhere can be absolutely perfect.

0:47:580:48:05

In a town of haves - and it's had its haves for a long time - what about the have-nots?

0:48:110:48:18

I'm thinking about the unseen Ludlow, away from the gaze of the tourists,

0:48:180:48:23

and I'm not the first one to think about it.

0:48:230:48:26

In January 1931, around the time my aunt painted her beautiful picture,

0:48:290:48:35

the normally conservative local paper ran a series of articles

0:48:350:48:39

on the ugly side of Ludlow.

0:48:390:48:41

It began with a report on how the local vicar had challenged

0:48:410:48:46

his congregation during the Sunday sermon.

0:48:460:48:48

"How can you sit and listen to the church bells playing Home Sweet Home," he thundered...

0:48:500:48:56

The newspaper agreed.

0:49:040:49:06

Vicar and journalist were railing, both at the town's social problems,

0:49:160:49:21

and also at the indifference of most of the townsfolk.

0:49:210:49:25

Was the very idea of a slum beyond comprehension in a town

0:49:250:49:30

which had so carefully cultivated an image of perfection?

0:49:300:49:34

But the council was listening, even if others were not,

0:49:430:49:47

and here, in the 1930s, in the previously undeveloped north-west corner of Ludlow,

0:49:470:49:52

they built Sandpits estate.

0:49:520:49:56

Today, it's home to nearly 4,000 of Ludlow's 10,000 residents,

0:49:580:50:04

nearly half of Ludlow's population,

0:50:040:50:06

but it remains a bit of a secret, unseen place.

0:50:070:50:11

I met a few people in town who were surprised I was even coming here.

0:50:110:50:16

The population of Ludlow is disproportionately old.

0:50:160:50:20

Over 30% are over 60.

0:50:200:50:24

You have to come to Sandpits to find the young people,

0:50:240:50:28

because most of the town's under-30s live here.

0:50:280:50:32

Statistics can be slippery tools, but here's one I've been trying to grasp.

0:50:320:50:38

Sandpits is the most deprived place in South Shropshire.

0:50:380:50:42

You have to travel 30 miles north to find anywhere more deprived.

0:50:420:50:47

Given that the historic heart of Ludlow exudes such an air of wellbeing, of prosperity,

0:50:470:50:52

it does make you wonder whether there aren't two different kinds of community here,

0:50:520:50:57

that this is a town of two halves.

0:50:570:51:00

I do love the town,

0:51:040:51:06

but it's the unemployment side of it which is a nightmare.

0:51:060:51:10

When I was in school, the only thing I was good at

0:51:100:51:13

was my cooking side of things - I had a passion for cooking, so they put me on this apprenticeship.

0:51:130:51:18

Then after that, I had a full-time job at a three-star hotel with two rosettes.

0:51:180:51:22

Straightaway after school at 16.

0:51:220:51:24

That was the highlight of my life, and I'm 22 now, and it's gone gradually downhill.

0:51:240:51:29

Obviously, the pub trades are dying out. 25 pubs a week are getting shut down.

0:51:290:51:34

That side of things are not working out for people like me, like a young chef.

0:51:340:51:38

And are you applying for chef jobs at the moment?

0:51:380:51:42

I apply every day. I fill in CVs, I look on websites, I go into pubs,

0:51:420:51:46

walk in in a nice posh suit, try and get myself a job, but it is difficult.

0:51:460:51:52

If you could change one thing about Ludlow, what would it be?

0:51:520:51:55

Don't just look at the fame and glory of the food side of Ludlow and all that sort of thing.

0:51:550:52:01

Try and help the people that are unemployed, try and help us out a little bit.

0:52:010:52:05

We do try. People say we don't try, we like to dole doss.

0:52:050:52:08

It's not the case at all. I hate it.

0:52:080:52:10

I can't stand being on the dole.

0:52:100:52:12

The characteristic that's preserved the historic face of Ludlow,

0:52:150:52:20

that vast cocoon of protective, productive countryside, makes life difficult these days

0:52:200:52:25

for young people who want work, and for a lot of young people here in Sandpits

0:52:250:52:30

who can't get work in town, it's a very long hike to find it elsewhere.

0:52:300:52:35

All that countryside used to create a lot of jobs.

0:52:350:52:39

Not any more.

0:52:390:52:41

Let's go.

0:52:460:52:48

But some in the town haven't forgotten Sandpits.

0:52:510:52:55

In 2007, former boxer Chinny Richards and others

0:52:560:53:00

set up Ludlow Amateur Boxing Club in the heart of the estate.

0:53:000:53:06

We're trying to give the lads an aim, get them off the streets,

0:53:160:53:20

not that Sandpits is a bad place - it's a decent estate these days -

0:53:200:53:24

but it just gives the youngsters of Ludlow a chance to come

0:53:240:53:27

and vent their anger if they like and install discipline along the way.

0:53:270:53:31

Do you think it's made a difference to the community having it here?

0:53:330:53:37

I think so. I hope so.

0:53:370:53:39

What do you get out of it?

0:53:390:53:41

You've only got to look around! That's what I get out of it.

0:53:410:53:44

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

0:53:460:53:50

What do you think it's doing for Ludlow?

0:53:500:53:53

Putting Ludlow on the map in the boxing world.

0:53:530:53:55

Make Ludlow famous for something other than its castle and its food!

0:53:550:53:59

That's right, that's right!

0:53:590:54:02

This whole club is being run by volunteers who are busting a gut to make Sandpits work.

0:54:020:54:08

Anybody who doubts this community's future, come along here.

0:54:080:54:12

This community is on its feet and fighting for its own future.

0:54:120:54:16

The citizens of Ludlow are gathering at the racecourse on a chilly night in March.

0:54:230:54:28

But tonight's action is not on the track.

0:54:280:54:32

It's in the ring.

0:54:320:54:34

It's a benefit night for the boxing club, to raise funds for a new clubhouse.

0:54:370:54:44

The town has turned out in force,

0:54:440:54:48

keen to support Chinny and the amateur boxers of Ludlow.

0:54:480:54:53

This is the last kind of show I expected to see in Ludlow. It's a big night.

0:54:530:54:58

There are people here from all over town, both sides of the track.

0:54:580:55:03

It's electrifying, edge-of-the-seat stuff.

0:55:030:55:05

To get up in that ring, these youngsters have been training four years.

0:55:050:55:10

There's so much happening in here.

0:55:100:55:12

It's about fundraising, it's about taking youngsters off the streets.

0:55:120:55:18

It also tells us something about Ludlow itself, the self-discipline,

0:55:180:55:22

the self-belief, and the guts that it takes to make an isolated town work.

0:55:220:55:29

BELL RINGS

0:55:390:55:40

'Let's hear it for these guys!

0:55:400:55:42

'What a cracking contest!'

0:55:420:55:44

All towns have their contrasting neighbourhoods, have done since the earliest days of our urban history.

0:56:020:56:09

There's always a community on the other side of the track.

0:56:090:56:13

What matters is that communities on both sides of the track

0:56:130:56:18

feel as if they belong to the town, THEIR town.

0:56:180:56:22

Perfect it isn't, but maybe it comes close.

0:56:280:56:32

Ludlow cleverly uses its shared spaces,

0:56:320:56:35

from the markets to the boxing club,

0:56:350:56:38

from the church to the supermarket, to bring people together.

0:56:380:56:41

It's something that a town can do best.

0:56:410:56:44

Bigger than a village, more intimate than a city.

0:56:440:56:48

Its ultimate shared space is the vast landscape that surrounds it.

0:56:480:56:55

To this day, Ludlow's never lost touch with its surrounding countryside.

0:57:060:57:12

It does send a shiver up my spine that a place like this can exist in the 21st century,

0:57:120:57:18

a real market town, a country town that's managed to preserve its roots, managed to stay in touch

0:57:180:57:25

with the fields and the pastures that gave rise to its first streets nearly 1,000 years ago.

0:57:250:57:31

Ludlow's still the hub, the beating heart of its own market garden.

0:57:310:57:37

It's not just a beautiful town.

0:57:370:57:40

It's a beautiful idea.

0:57:400:57:42

For a free booklet about what makes our towns work, call...

0:57:490:57:56

Or go to:

0:57:560:58:01

And follow the links to the Open University.

0:58:010:58:04

Next time, I'll be in Scarborough, in Yorkshire,

0:58:060:58:09

where I'll be discovering what it's like to live on the edge.

0:58:090:58:14

Why Scarborough has inspired one of our greatest living playwrights.

0:58:140:58:20

The best is here. You're a seaside resort, but you can have the best.

0:58:200:58:24

And what the future might hold for this traditional seaside town.

0:58:240:58:30

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:370:58:40

E-mail us at [email protected]

0:58:400:58:43

We live in one of the most urbanised countries on earth. By 2030 a staggering 92 percent of us will be living the urban life. Congested cities sprawl across our map, but they are not the only way to live. Smaller than a city, more intimate, more surprising: this series celebrates the forgotten world of the town.

An English market town on the Welsh border, Ludlow is small, landlocked and remote. Yet it has more listed buildings than anywhere else its size in Britain; not one, but two Michelin-starred restaurants; and a fairytale castle which was once the capital of Wales. Geographer and adventurer Nicholas Crane discovers how such a cut-off town came to be packed with so many treasures, and asks whether it really is as perfect as it first appears.


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