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A House on Stilts

Ledbury, in Herefordshire, is one one of those beautiful, historic, little towns where everything in the town centre seems to be hundreds of years old. It’s where my mother lives, so while she was ill and I was looking after her I took the chance to wander around and take some new photographs, since most of mine were taken a long time ago, so here are a few for this week’s Saturday Snapshot.

The Market House, a distinctive black and white building, stands on 16 wooden stilts, with narrow steps leading up to the entrance. It dominates the main street and is generally regarded as the jewel in the town’s architectural crown – and when you see how impressive all the other buildings are you realise this one has to be pretty special.
Timber framed, with brick infill, it was built in the 17th century as a corn warehouse: the grain was stored inside the raised structure, where it was protected from the weather and was safe from rats, mice and other vermin, while traders sold their wares from stalls and shops in the covered area below. A market is still held there twice a week, which is a nice link with the past I think.

Work started in 1617, but was not completed until 1668 because somewhere along the line cash (raised by public subscription) ran out. Eventually the trustees took money from legacies set up to provide clothing for the poor, and in return were supposed to provide 12 sets of garments each year, paid from the profits made by renting out the Market House. It sounds a pretty fair deal to me, but I’ve no idea whether the promise was ever carried out!
At that stage the house itself had two floors, and it’s possible one was use for storage, and the other for meetings. But when the Turnpike Act was levied in the early 18th century, traders couldn’t afford to pay the toll gate taxes, so they brought samples of corn to the market, and the building where they had previously paid to store grain got emptier and emptier, and had to be used for wool, hops and acorns for the local tanning industry. I knew very little about the Turnpike Act, or its effect on people, but that’s what I like about local history – you like at a building, and think how gorgeous it is, then discover a whole social history attached to it!

It brought in little money and was rarely full. However, the enterprising Victorians stripped out the inside, leaving the outer shell intact, and created space for meetings, exhibitions, sales and performances by travelling theatre companies. It was also been used as a Town Hall. Today it still provides a venue for meetings, sales and exhibitions and, more recently, weddings were held there, but the Disability Access law put paid to that.
It’s thought much of the construction was undertaken by John Abel, who was appointed King’s Carpenter by Charles I. He was a local man, and a number of Herefordshire buildings are attributed to him, but there is no evidence to support the theory that he was involved with Ledbury’s Market House. The wooden supports are made of oak, and were repaired and strengthened in 2006, when the entire building, including the posts, was raised into the air with the aid of hydraulic jacks. It was a tremendous feat of modern engineering, and somewhere I have a photo showing it surrounded by scaffolding, and perched on metal framework, but I can’t find it anywhere, although I have searched and searched.
For more Saturday Snapshots see  Alice’s blog at  


I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

48 thoughts on “A House on Stilts

  1. Paulita, quite a number of places have market houses or town halls on 'stilts' but often they are brick buildings with stone pillars, from a later period. I think this one is unusual because it has a timber frame and timber posts.

    I guess we are lucky in England because despite development there are still lots of old buildings all over the country – some Medieval, Tudor, 17th century, Georgian and Victorian.


  2. Sausages made to special recipes, from rare breed animals, are on sale in family butchers just down the road from the market house… didn't see any venison ones though, but I bought home-made game pie for my husband. And steak from local beef cattle!


  3. Thanks for these photos and your descriptions. This house reminds me of a place I visited near the Stonehenge a few years ago: Lacock Village. It's a historical town too, and the buildings are similar to this one here… but not on stilts though. 😉


  4. I've seen these timbered house in Germany but never in England. Thanks for the tour, I will have to check this out the next time I am over there.
    Thanks for stopping by and visiting!


  5. The only houses I've ever seen on stilts have been near the ocean or on riverfront property. There's something about a building on stilts that makes me uneasy, despite knowing that they have surely checked it for safety. Thanks for sharing all of the history behind it!


  6. I've been there! I remember it was being very beautiful, and the entire village has been preserved. And isn't a building which used to be an abbey, and was kept by the family who acquired it after the Dissolution?


  7. It is worth a visit – it is near Hereford, which is a lovely city, with its own black and white white building, and a cathedral. And there the most unspoilt villages in the area, and you get to Hay on Way (loads of bookshps!), and the Brecon Beacons, and parts of Wales, Shropshire and Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. It would be a fabulous place to stay ! You could even stay in a 400-year-old timbered hotel!


  8. Leslie, what you can't see is that when the building was raised off the round in 2006 they gouged out the rotten wood at the base of the posts which had been damaged (mainly by boring wasps I believe), inserted long steel rods through the centre of each, then packed the gap in the base with some special mortar. Not sure if that means the house will stand for another 400 years, but it's god for a few years yet!


  9. Alyce, here in England they seem to be have been built like this, mainly in the 17th and early 18th centuries I think, for communal/civic/meeting buildings, with a market below them. In Tamworth, where I live, the Town Hall was built in 1701, and is of brick, balanced on stone pillars around the edge. Way back in time the Butter Market was held in the area surrounded by the pillars, beneath the actual building.


  10. Very cool architecture! Thanks for sharing the history behind the structure. It sounds like it has had quite the transformation throughout the years!
    Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate


  11. There have been a lot of alterations, repairs over the centuries, but the work seems to have been done without destroying the outer fabric of the building. I think it's pretty amazing that the building still stands, and that is still in use. I wonder if our modern buildings will last as long!


  12. Thank you Sim for dropping by. I am glad there are places like this where the past is preserved, and it is even better when they still have a role to play in the community, rater than being museum pieces.


  13. Margaret, if you ever get the chance to go back to that area, do pay a visit, because it really is a delightful place. I am sure you would love it. There are some lovely cafes, connections to John Masefield and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and friendly people.


  14. That's fantastic. I've never seen a timber framed house on stilts before. I saw a timber framed building in Stratford on Avon with a KFC in it which seemed incongruous somehow.


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