St John of Jerusalem, Ford
This delightful, diminutive church stands in the beautiful surroundings of a grassy meadow on the left bank of the River Lugg. There was once a medieval village on the opposite bank. The church was almost entirely rebuilt in 1851 by John Arkwright of Hampton Court on its very ancient foundations.
Ford is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In 1130 the Archdeacon of Hereford appointed a chaplain to the Chapel at Ford. Later in 1218, Bishop Hugh de Mapenore allowed Prior Walter at Leominster to use the dues of the chapel, described as a small ‘two-cell Romanesque’ building, to support the work of hospitality and the care of the poor at the Priory. Evidence of the original church still remains at Ford to this day.
Two irregularly shaped stone bowls either side of the chancel appear to be over 800 years old, and between the rafters on the semi-circular roof of the chancel are four unusual hand-painted figures. The paintings seem to be on either parchment or leather representing the Apostles. One holds a book and keys, which could depict St. Peter.
Set into the vestry floor is an inscribed stone slab recording the grave of Elizabeth Flacker, the daughter of Leonard Bennett who died in 1676. There are other memorials in the nave dating from 1707 to 1830, while the communion plate is marked 1689.
Remains of the original stained glass depicting the constellations with the sun and moon are long gone - to be replaced by two lovely windows in the chancel of St Michael and St Gabriel. The flowing carving on the oak pulpit and reading desk and the miniature stone font all contribute to an intimate atmosphere, very different from that experienced in larger loftier buildings.
The setting of the church beside the River Lugg is an important part of its history. The name itself denotes the presence of an ancient crossing, where travellers would make their way across the river to the west. The river has not always been contained within its banks. In 1947 and again in 2007 the church was flooded - water reached the chancel step. In all probability this has occurred many times before.
Eventually the ford was replaced by a stone bridge near the church to enable easier crossing. Records relate the important part that the river played in transporting all manner of goods. Flat bottomed boats, called trows or barges worked the river. They varied in size needing a minimum of eight men to deal with a barge against the current, often more when bridges needed to be negotiated. Each haulier attached themselves to the tow line with leather harness about five yards apart. The bargees sought food and shelter as they hauled the boats up the river.
It was often an itinerant and dangerous life as recorded in parish burial registers. In 1702 the bridge at Ford was falling ‘into decay’ and hampering the navigation of the barges moving up the river. It was repaired in 1736.
The River Lugg joins the River Wye at Mordiford. Boats had brought cargo there from Chepstow and Bristol. From Mordiford, barges of twenty tons were able to navigate the twenty-five miles to Leominster, where a basin and wharf were made at Eaton bridge to convey goods to and from the town. (The bells from Leominster Priory were successfully sent to Chepstow for recasting and returned by barge in 1756). The state of the roads and expense encouraged the use of the river for large quantities of heavy goods such as coal, limestone and iron, also more fragile commodities such as wine, china and glass which were easier to convey gently over the water. The barges returned loaded with Cider, Barley, Wheat, Hops and Timber. The bridge at Ford was constantly under repair to enable the boats to pass by and the bargees and hauliers towing the boats, must have welcomed the stop at Ford after negotiating the circuitous stretch of the river from Wellington, Bodenham and Hampton Court.
The coming of the railway saw the demise of river navigation and peace would have slowly returned to the riverbank. Today, the little church of St John of Jerusalem continues to hold memories of the past in its quiet and tranquil setting.
Written by Joyce M