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Eaton Bishop, its History 1855-1955

written by members of Eaton Bishop W.I.
for a Cogan Cup Competition


Eaton Bishop, lovely village in the valley of England’s loveliest river, the Wye, is a perfect example of the fact that the drift from the country is a two-way traffic.

The population today - 294 - is eight more than in 1891 which is as far back as an accurate comparison can be made, and in the past ten years, twenty two new houses have been built or re-created, compared with four in the previous 90 years.

And this though no industries have been introduced, no new road built through it and no other artificial stimulus has occurred. People have come to Eaton Bishop from Lancashire, Scotland, Cheshire, Birmingham and London to mingle their varied tongues with the soft, slow and slightly Welsh intonations of the village, because it is a pleasant place in which to live.

Its distance west of Hereford depends on whether one is a crow (4 miles), a walker or cyclist able to negotiate twisting narrow lanes (4½ miles) or a motorist dependent on the secondary road which links the city with Bredwardine and Hay (6 miles). A fourth route, also 4 miles, involves crossing the river and joining the main Hereford-Hay road, but since the ferry linking the Sugwas Boat Inn with Lower Eaton ceased in 1946 this has been virtually impossible.

The rich undulating ground, nearly 340 feet above sea level at the highest point, is part red sandstone and clay on which superb crops and fruit of all kinds grow freely, and is still the main source of its prosperity. On its lush meadows pedigree Hereford cattle flourish, attracting visitors from all points of the compass. The one serpent in this fertile Eden is that on all untended ground, mammoth nettles, dock and (by the river) balsam grow with equal vigour.

Forty-nine people work on the land compared with 28 who travel outside the village to work, 11 being employed locally on other jobs and 15 retired.

The name Eaton Bishop is simply explained - town by the water belonging to the Bishops. This is as true today as it was in the ancient times when the name first arose, for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are still the lords of the manor.

It divides itself naturally into four parts. There is the group round the church (25 houses), another at Lower Eaton (19), a third round Honeymoor Common (20) and a fourth and by far the largest and oldest round Ruckhall Common (35).

“Ruckhall” is more difficult to define but it is thought “ruck” might be a derivation of the Norman “rouge” in use at the time when Rafe de Sollars was a big landowner after the conquest. “Red Hill” would be a perfectly accurate description.

The boundaries of the village are the ancient ones of river (Wye), brook (Cage) and Roman Road (Stoney Street). As the history of the church proves, it dates back to pre-Norman times and there is within its boundaries, the site of a British Camp recalled today in the name of the Camp Inn.

There is a significant change in the village today compared with one hundred years ago. Then, when the franchise was limited to male owners of freehold property or those paying more than £50 a year rent, there were only 15 property owners (21 voters). 

Today, 54 of the 99 houses are owner-occupied. When it is realised that of the remainder, eight are Council houses and 12 workmen’s cottages attached to two farms, it can be seen that only 22 people are paying rent to private landlords. There were 216 voters on the last list.

Today, however, the village has a Rectory but no resident Rector, a School house but no school, a forge but no blacksmith and a Carpenter’s Cottage where a carpenter has never lived.

What it has is a fine village hall, two district nurses, one policeman (shortly to be transferred to Clehonger), an Inn, a Post Office, two telephone boxes and one of the prettiest parish churches with one of the most magnificent 14th century east windows in the county, or country.

In 1855 there was a wheelwright (James Daw), a blacksmith (Mary Daw), two boot and shoe makers (James Evans and Lewis Hodges), a grocer (Charles Evans) a carpenter (Richard Morgan), a cider retailer (Elizabeth Silvester) and two active grinding mills (Ruckhall and New Mills). In later years there was also a tailor (James Williams) whose wife was also the village baker and shopkeeper at Wood View, a sweet shop at Violet Cottage (Amelia Lizzie James), a butcher (John Williams and later Thomas Wheeler) at the Manor House and Westfields, a cabinet maker (C. Long) at Little Marsh and a poultry dealer (Abraham Broad) at Little Red House, Honeymoor.

The reason for the decline in craftsmen is the same here as elsewhere - mechanisation - and the lack of local traders is not felt today because delivery services are so good. Milk, groceries and bread are all delivered and a travelling shop brings to the door everything from buckets and scrubbing brushes to ice cream from its own refrigerator. A laundry calls weekly and since 1949 there has been a monthly collection of refuse - tins and bottles only.

Apart from these services, it is a strange fact that the internal combustion engine has made the village more, rather than less isolated than in former days.

Before 1914, people were far more accustomed to walking long distances and the river at Eaton Bishop being crossed more easily - by ferry to Lower Eaton and punt to the Camp Inn - Hereford people would come out in large numbers at weekends to picnic by the river at Ruckhall.

They went to the Camp Inn for ham and egg teas and to the Laurels run as a Tea Garden, first by Richard Tunniss (1905) and later by Percy Cooke who still lives there. A board on the river attracted customers, and at holidays and weekends between 40 and 50 had tea there each day, and on one occasion 170 came! Mr Cooke tells that his original entry was a tea for Mr Hubert Harden on April 1st, 1909. He paid 1/3d. Tea, bread and butter and cakes cost 6d. and for a chicken or duck salad it was 6d. extra. Produce from their own garden was used and Mr Protheroe of Ruckhall Mill provided the chickens and ducks. For special duck dinners it was 2/-.

Some of the visitors stayed for the weekend or came for holidays and at one time there were 18 in the house and in a bell tent on the lawn. Miss Rose Meek who lives nearby still, used to help by accommodating any overflow. Many of the guests were fishermen but there were five from Birmingham whose visits were looked forward to as they gave concerts, singing and dancing with blackened faces, to the villagers on Ruckhall Common. The Laurels closed at the start of rationing in 1940 and the death of Mrs Cooke precluded its re-opening.

Young people, many of them members of Hereford Rowing Club still come out to the Camp at weekends, but apart from these and from relatives and personal friends of householders, very few come to have an afternoon out at Eaton Bishop these days. It is rather too far for an afternoon stroll for this generation and not far enough for the motorist who wants to go for a run to the country. The bus service is designed for the convenience of villagers going to Hereford rather than visitors to it.

So, by the happy accident of being en route to nowhere in particular, Eaton Bishop is for the most part left to enjoy its beauties in splendid isolation.

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