There are several notable citizens from the area and many of these are immortalised by monuments both within the church and churchyard.
During the Norman period Ross was a manor belonging to the Bishops of Hereford and was originally presented to them by Edmund Ironside. Legend says that Ross is the place where the Saxon king Edmund II (known as Edmund Ironside) died from a traitor's wounds in 1016. He is best known for his fierce defence of England against the massive invading army of the Danish king Canute. During this time England was divided between the two kings, Edmund held the west and Wessex while Canute ruled in the north and east.
The Kings Demise
The legend of his downfall says that a servant hatched a plan to murder him in return for a reward from Canute. The King had a big house at Minsterworth in Gloucestershire and the servant secretly and carefully positioned a sharpened stake in the king's latrine. Then, as Edmund lowered himself to use his toilet, the servant quickly withdrew the candle and plunged Edmund into darkness and this resulted in him being impaled. The king was rushed away to a monastery in search of aid but died of his wounds when he reached Ross. The servant then presented himself at Canute's court and claimed the murder. Canute then reputedly had him hanged from the highest oak that he could find.
Edmund Ironside (Click for a larger image)
Carving of John Kyrle on Kyrle House. (Click for a larger image)
John Kyrle (1637-1724), known as the "Man of Ross", was a 18th Century philanthropist and he was one of the major benefactor's of the Town although he has possibly been equalled by Thomas Blake. He was renowned for his modest
lifestyle and charity work and regularly used to help the poor and the sick. He also helped to design Ross and left many marks on the town, for
example, in 1700, the "Prospect" walk, and Ross is one of the first recorded attempts in the county to beautify a town for the benefit of all the people.
He was educated at the Grammar School, Gloucester and then trained as Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied Law. Unfortunately he left and did not qualify and
having inherited the family property looking over the Market Square in Ross he decided to live there and provide services to the town.
His work was immortalised by the eighteenth century English poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who was a frequent visitor to nearby Holme Lacey,
in his "Moral Essays". [ more details]
The postcard image to the right (published by Ross Gazette Ltd.) shows John Kyrle "The Man of Ross" probably taken from a wood cut or steel engraving.
A postcard of John Kyrle [Published by Ross Gazette Ltd.] (Click for a larger image)
In the third Moral Epistle (an essay), his Epistle to Bathurst (1732), Alexander Pope eulogised John Kyrle and Ross by saying:
Who taught that heav’n directed Spire to rise?
The Man of Ross, each lisping babe replies.
Behold the Market-place with poor o'erspread!
The Man of Ross divides the weekly bread; He feeds yon Alms-house, neat, but void of state,
Where Age and Want sit smiling at the gate;
Him portion’d maids, apprentic’d orphans blest,
The young who labour, and the old who rest.
Is any sick? the Man of Ross relieves,
Prescribes, attends, the med’cine makes, and gives,
Is there a variance? enter but his door,
Balk’d are the Courts, and contest is no more.
Despairing Quacks with curses fled the place,
And vile Attornies, now an useless race.
Chair & Portrait of John Kyrle, "The Man of Ross" [Published by Tilley & Son, Ledbury] (Click for a larger image)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1722-1834) stayed in Kyrle House in 1794 after it became the King's Arms Inn and
he mentioned John Kyrle in a short poem he wrote at about the same time called The Man of Ross.
Other famous literary figures who are known to have stayed in Ross include, in 1807, the poet Robert Bloomfield (1766-1832) and, in 1867, Charles Dickens (1812-1870).
The Rudhall family
The Rudhall family is commemorated with a number of spectacular monuments at the top end of the South Aisle in the church. William Rudhall's (died 1530) tomb is one of the last great alabaster sculptures from the specialist masons of Nottingham, whose work was prized right across medieval Europe.
What was once the Walter Scott Charity School (Click for a larger image)
There is a monument to Walter Scott in the churchyard and he established education for children if Ross-on-Wye. Walter Scott was a native of Ross but was forced to leave due to poverty after being educated in the Blue Coat Charity school, an infants School in Arthur's Lane (now known as Old Gloucester Road).
This had obviously left a great impression on the man as when he died, Dec. 4th, 1786 aged 70, he had no dependents but "using his education" gained in the school, he had become quite wealthy so he gave his fortune to the school in which he felt indebted.
Thomas Blake was the M.P. for the borough of Leominster and in 31st of July 1873, he gave to the people of Ross "The Ross Free Library, Reading-Room, and Recreation-Grounds" situated in Broad street. This was a two storey building which was well furnished, lighted and ventilated with news and refreshment rooms on the ground-floor, and reading-room, book-room, chess-room on first floor. The reading-room contained London and local newspapers, periodicals which were regularly updated. The library contained about 1,000 volumes. At the back were recreation-grounds with a gymnasium, croquet and bowling lawns. There was also a 'modern' lavatory with all the modern comforts of the time. [ more... ]
Nathaniel Morgan was a Quaker banker and businessman and was influential in the development of Ross, to this end he became Mayor three times in the early 1800's. He lived his entire life at the Friends Place near the Market House. He was born in 1775 and died in 1854.
He is possibly best known for starting a non-denominational school in the upper part of the Market House in 1799, to improve the future of the children in Ross and he later became a patron of the British and Foreign School and was involved in a great number of the reforms in Ross that happened during his life. He also campaigned against slavery and income taxes resulting in him having several run-ins with the tax office and the law.
Thomas Blake (1825-1901) was a Victorian Philanthropist who lived and worked in Ross and was probably one of, if not the, biggest benefactor of the town; he was to Ross in the 19th Century what John Kyrle was to the town in the 17th Century.
William Blake, Thomas' father, was born in London and became an apprentice to a coppersmith and brazier in the city. After he completed his apprenticeship he went to India to serve in the British Army. Upon returning to England he came to Herefordshire where he met and later married Miss Mary Catora who was from Ross.
Thomas Blake was a true Rossian and was born on 11th March 1825 above Blake's Hardware Score at the corner of Station Street and Broad Street.
Thomas was schooled in Ross about which he was very enthusiastic. He showed a great deal of diligence and aptitude which set him up for his working life.
After he left school his first job was in a Bristol draper's shop, run by Edward Phillips. He enjoyed this job and he stayed for fourteen months but he finally decided that the drapery business was not to be his life's work.
The site of Blakes Hardware Store (now The General Tool Store as seen in 2005) (Click for a larger image)
At this point he returned to Ross and entered the British and Foreign School as a trainee teacher and he aimed to become a schoolmaster.
After his training he was offered a job as a schoolmaster in a small Buckinghamshire town but due to a number of reasons, which included his father being ill, he decided to stay in Ross. As a result in early 1843, at an annual salary of £50, he got a job in the post office as an assistant to the postmaster, William Paine. as his experience increased so did his workload but his salary didn't noticeably. He had been offered many jobs in larger offices outside of Ross, he declined these in order to remain in Ross.
To supplement his income he started up a Fire and Life insurance agency and he also started a newspaper and an advertising agency; for many years he was the Ross reporter for the Hereford Times.
In his meagre spare time he carried out accountancy work and book-keeping for the town's folk and he became a letting agent for cottages and other properties which he looked after. For this he received 5% commission on the rents received. Additionally he was also working as the secretary for the Baker's Charity and did the accounts for the organisation for £20 per annum.
Lebanon on Walford Road (Click for a larger image)
His friends recognised his potential and advised him to give up the post office job and become an accountant. So on 30th June 1857, after 14 years service and at the age of 32, he gave up his Post Office position. At around this time he lived at 'Lebanon' which was his luxurious residence on Walford Road.
He immediately opened a business on his own as a public accountant, house and estate agent, and expanded his news and advertising agency.
He found these businesses to be a very lucrative and the businesses rapidly expanded which meant he needed to move to a larger premises and hire clerks. He was an excellent businessman and his business sense and skills served him well and as a result 11 years later, in June 1868 at the age of 43, he retired and passed the business to Alexander Gordon who was his nephew.
Thomas Blake carefully managed his monies and his accountancy skills meant that he was able to keep accurate accounts of all income and expenditure and produced an accurate balance sheet every three months. Any net profit on his income was invested in a number of safe commercial undertakings; many of these he continued to maintain right up until his death.
He soon found that his income was more than sufficient for his own needs and he was therefore able to give generous amounts to the poor in Ross. By the time he died his expenditure to the poor was recorded as £20,000.
He also carried out an endless number of acts of generosity to the towns people which included:-
Purchased the Prospect and gave the freehold to the townspeople of Ross for all time
The lease of several buildings on Kyrle Street for public use
Thomas Blake gave £3,162 of the £3,700 required to replace the original Baptist Chapel with a modern one.
Paid for the repair works needed for the upkeep of the Almshouses in Ross
Paid for the rebuilding, modernisation and improvement of the the six Alms houses in Edde Cross Street and the four Alms houses in Old Gloucester Road
For a period of 31 years, at Christmas time he gave every widow in Ross a hundredweight of coal (the tickets for which were obtained from the Town Hall)
He gave a packet of groceries to the people residing in each of the 26 Almshouses of Ross. He also gave them a silver coin to purchase flour for a Christmas pudding
He provided the Town with a pure and plentiful water supply by purchasing Alton Court and its buildings
He purchased the engine house, plant and mains which formerly supplied the infected water supply to the town from the river. The river water was soft and was much better for cleaning and for laundry work
He extended the mains to serve Ross Railway Station
He purchased no. 20 Broad Street which he fitted up as a Free Library which included the grounds behind which could be used by the local townspeople for games and recreation. He also paid one hundred pounds into the Gloucester Bank for the purchase of books and he setup a ten guinea annual subscription towards maintenance of the building and to supply the reading room with four daily newspapers
The site of the Ross Free Library (Click for a larger image)
Thomas Blake owned a number of areas of land around the Town and in 1897 he signed a contract with Queen Victoria's government to allow five militia regiments (these regiments were the 3rd 4th Shropshire Infantry, which included the Herefordshire, 3rd Royal Warwick and 3rd and 4th Worcester Regiments) to camp and be trained around Ross.
From May to August the militia were allowed to use the 85 acres at Alton Court but being as about 60 acres were used for arable purposes, Thomas placed Broadmeadow and Stockmeadow (near the old cattle market off Homs Road) at the disposal of the authorities.
At Alton Court he allowed the the construction of a new rifle range to the modern specifications of the day and under the guidance of the War Department.
Thomas was married twice in his life, first to Susan Ellen who died on the 22nd April 1874 (aged 57) and second to Annie who died on the 16th February 1898
His will was his last major benevolent gesture to Ross in which he made a donation of 1,000 guineas to support the Ross Cottage Hospital.
Thomas Blake died on 31st March 1901 (aged 75) and was interred in Ross churchyard on Thursday, April 4th, 1901.
The headstone of Thomas Blake`s grave (Click for a larger image)
As a mark of respect the residents of Ashfield and Ross closed their window blinds and tradesmen in the town closed their premises for the whole afternoon.
The funeral cortege was made up of over 200 people and included grateful residents of the local almshouses and representatives of a large number of the societies, institutions and public bodies which Thomas Blake was associated.
Special preparations were made for the grave too which was lined with ferns, mosses, white narcissi and marigolds. He was buried in a polished oak coffin with brass furniture and a simple inscription.
Considering what he did for the town, and unlike John Kyrle, the the Town's contribution to the memory of Thomas Blake is restricted to a cul-de-sac in Merrivale and a memorial garden in Wye Street which seems a short measure. After his death there was a proposal to erect a statue to Thomas Blake on the edge of the Market Place but this was poorly received by the town and sadly was never carried out.
Mr. William Harris and Kate
In 1965, Kate was one of the last working horses left in the country and was regularly carting loads through the streets of Ross-on-Wye. Kate was
at this time aged 10 and owned by carter Mr. William Harris, who was 73 and lived in School Lane.
Mr. William Harris had been contracting with a horse and cart for 35 years and had a regular contract with Ross urban council. He also did other
work in the evenings for the local towns people when needed.
Bill Harris and Kate [Photo: J.C. Coombes] (Click for a larger image)
He was quoted as saying2:
"I find it [a horse] is more economical than a lorry. It does not cost so much to keep, but if I were younger I would have a lorry.
They call me Steptoe because of the cart and the things I take around."
Mr. Harris was well known around the town and was a true "character", in fact he was also known to thousands of tourists who came to the town and were amazed to see him working using his horse and cart. Having a horse and cart collection service in the midst of a town choked with traffic was unique by the 1980's and it appealed greatly to camera wielding tourists. This combined with Bill's nature, always totally relaxed and full of humour, gave him real appeal and both Bill and his horse were extremely popular with children who loved to stroke the horse.
He continued working for the council clearing up rubbish on the streets until he was 87, by which time he had moved to Pontshill3.
His death, aged 89, and funeral, held on 19th March 1983, marked the end of an era. When he retired the town council had a long and difficult
task working out how and who they would replace his old-fashioned but efficient service with more modern methods.
Harry diamond was a minstrel who attracted adoring audiences but he died practically penniless in 1907 (aged 33).
The inscription on the headstone says:
Musician & Vocalist
Died at Ross May 18 1907
Aged 33 Erected by a few friends
The marble headstone was erected after an extensive whip round.
Harry Diamond's Gravestone (Click for a larger image)
Harry made his home in Ross during the winter months, where he taught the banjo, held musical evenings and partying. During the summer months he went off
to more fashionable resorts where he played his banjo for a living.
He was a muscular and broad shouldered man. He was well liked, a perfect musician and was always willing to helpout at charitable events but at
33 he fell victim to heart disease and dropsy*.
Frederick Cooper, a leading Ross citizen, organised the the fund-raising for the funeral. This was met with tremendous response; the book he used to jot down the
details is still in existance.
As a mark of sorrow, sprigs of yew were thrown onto the coffin and among the wreaths was a floral banjo. The headstone, made by Ursells of Ross, features a
banjo with a boken string to signify the loves and death of the player. The headstone used to be regularly cleaned in his memory, although the current state of the stone sadly suggests that this may not be quite such a regular event anymore.
*Dropsy is an old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water, today the person might be said to have
edema due to congestive heart failure or something similar.
James Wallace Richard Hall5
James Wallace Richard Hall was born in 1799. He was the son of Rev. John Hall who was a naval chaplain. When he retired he moved to Much Birch in Wallace Cottage (now the Old Cedars).
James Hall was made a freeman of the city of Hereford in 1822; the year after became a practising solicitor in Hereford. Inspite of this he devoted his many talents to Ross even though he suffered a number of personal tragedies. He married twice although both of his wives died prematurely and out of his 10 children only one of them reached old age (Mary Sarah who attained 105 years).
Hall lived at Springfield House (now demolished), now the site of Vaga Crescent and Oaklands housing estates.
He is mainly remembered for the formation of the Hereford, Ross, Gloucester Railway [ more... ] which opened in 1855 although he also established the Ross Dispensary and British and Foreign School which were major milestones in Ross' history.
His other work for the town included being treasurer of Webbe's Hospital, vice-chairman of the Union Workhouse, a trustee of Baker's Charity and the Ross Turnpike Trust and he was also a Ross Improvement Commissioner. His professional and business interests meant that he was a clerk to the Wormelow Hundred, a solicitor to the Harewood End magistrates and he was pivotal in setting up the Forest of Dean Bank which is now part of Lloyds.
In Much Birch he was the principle landowner and in 1835 he was deeply involved in the rebuilding of the Church for which he supplied large amounts of financial support and administered the contracts and carried out the legal formalities.
In 1860 Hall died suddenly. He had requested that his funeral should be "as plain as possible", although the people of Ross did not carry out this wish.
On the day of the funeral shops were closed, blinds lowered and the funeral route was lined with the town's residents and workforce. The Hereford Times reported on the event and said:
Quoted from 'Hereford Times 1860'
The demeanour and bearing of those who attended showed they had come to pay their last sad token of respect to departed merit and all felt that a blank had been created and a niche made void which would not be filled very readily.
Joan Noele Gordon [25 Dec 1923 - 14 April 1985] (known as Noele) owned a large Georgian manor house at Weir End which was where her mother lived
during the week and Noele joined her at weekends4.
The house was put up for auction by Noele in 1973 and the bidding reached in excess of £40,000. Mr. K. Tofield, who was Managing Director of Woodville, bought it.
Noele died in 1985 and is buried in St. Mary's Churchyard, Ross-on-Wye, next to her mother Joan Gordon [1893 - 5th August 1979].
Noele's headstone bears the inscription:
In loving memory of dear Nolly, who devoted her life to her career. Her personality and ability established her as a national figure in British entertainment, and she is deeply missed by us all.