Ludlow Arts: Classical


St Laurence, Ludlow

St Laurence's is the largest parish church in Shropshire and one of the Twenty Greater Churches of England. A magnificent Grade I listed building, with rebuilding work of c. 1320 from an earlier church on the site, St Laurence's under-went major rebuilding during 1433-1471. During this time, the area of South Shropshire near Mortimer's Cross and Richard's Castle saw much dominance of the rival houses of York and Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses. The alternating rise of York and Lancaster is well represented in the glorious Chancel ceiling where badges of both parties are carved in the wooden bosses. The Chancel also houses the wonderful misericords, and was the final resting place of the heart of Arthur, Prince of Wales, elder brother of the future Henry VIII.

The tower, 135 feet high, stands over the convergence of the Teme and Corve valleys, and was immortalised by the poet and classicist A E Housman in his collection of verse, A Shropshire Lad. Housman's own ashes and memorial lie beneath the north wall of the church, facing out to Wenlock Edge and the broad sweep of the Corvedale above the town's medieval walls.

Music has always played an integral part in the life of St Laurence. From the time of Edward IV onwards, music within the liturgy here became an important factor, especially with the court of the Prince of Wales residing in Ludlow Castle. By the time of Prince Arthur's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, we know that at least two organs and most likely three, were owned by the church.

By George III's reign and the rise of Ludlow as a town in the important social circuit, the Earl of Powis commissioned the highly fashionable Swiss organ builder, John Snetzler, to build an organ for the church. In 2014 we are now celebrating the 250th anniversary of this remarkable and beautiful historic instrument, which was thoroughly refurbished in 2007 by Nicholson's of Malvern. The case is original 1764 work and in 2011 the pipes were regilded in gold leaf as originally decorated. Each summer, a series of summer organ concerts brings the nation's best organists to play on this historic instrument.

Over the past thirty years, concerts of all types have been held in the church. In 1996, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Robert Tear, tenor and Simon Rattle, conductor, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of Housman's A Shropshire Lad with a major concert broadcast by the BBC from St Laurence’s. To re-establish a music festival here, St Laurence's now hosts an annual MiniFest during mid-June each year.

St Laurence Ludlow website

Leave your home behind, lad
And reach your friends your hand,
And go, and luck go with you
While Ludlow tower shall stand.

Oh come you home of Sunday
When Ludlow streets are still
And Ludlow bells are calling
To farm and lane and mill,

Or come you home of Monday
When Ludlow market hums
And Ludlow chimes are playing
'The conquering hero comes,'

Come you home a hero
Or come not home at all,
The lads you leave will mind you
Til’ Ludlow tower shall fall.

A E Housman, A Shropshire Lad