Legends of the Lugg -Maud and the Dragon of Mordiford & The Mermaid of Marden

Meg’s Dorset button – a gift to me at the end of the project – spot the mermaid, the dragon, the river, the snowdrops, a sword and the river running red, all in an embroidered Dorset button just 3.5 cm in diameter.

On 10th, 14th and 16th March the three community groups heard a retelling or two of the legends of the River Lugg. I was lucky in that two of the stitchers kindly chose to re-tell the stories.

First up was Mary with the story of the Dragon of Mordiford, and I told about the stories of dragons generally in the Marches and the litle girl Maud who nurtured this wyvern (a dragon with two legs only). Mary then elaborated on the Dragon of Mordiford story with props, including some felted ones, see images below:

Mary with the hand-felted props
The dragon egg
Dragons across the Marches, Maud & the Dragon of Mordiford, right by the River Lugg
A few notes about dragons in the landscape
Tea towel brought in by Jill, part of a recent retelling by the village of Mordiford’s latest work to tell the story of the Dragon

Then Chris retold the Mermaid of Marden, drawing on material from a wonderful project she had completed with Marden schoolchildren when she was teaching.

Chris telling the Legend of the Mermaid of Marden
Chris telling the story of the Mermaid of Marden

The stitchers at Rose Tinted Rags loved hearing this recording of Chris’s story, we listened to it an extra couple of times! One stitcher had also brought in a beautiful mermaid she had previously made and we took its photo against all the iridescent fabrics surrounding us in this wonderful workshop/shop, here by Hereford Bus Station.

Image from Rose Tinted Rags Facebook page
Mermaid previously made by stitcher at Rose Tinted Rags
Reverse side of Mermaid


On 7th and 17th March we listened to several readings on a theme of water whilst we stitched.

First up, please listen to the two wonderful poems by our stitcher Maggie Crompton. The first is called A year beside the river and she has put it together from twelve of many haikus she wrote during 2021. Haikus are the Japanese poetry form that require a poem of 17 syllables in three lines of five, seven and five, and traditionally conjure images of the natural world. Her second poem is a treat, ‘The Water of Life‘ summing up I think all the things we have been talking about in these stitching sessions. Maggie is a wonderful wordsmith and we are so grateful for her sharing these amazing poems.

Maggie Crompton’s ‘A year beside the river

Maggie also read a poem about snowdrops which Jill had brought in, having had it framed with a picture on the wall for years but not really noticing it.

Maggie Crompton reading the poem about snowdrops Jill brought in from her wall at home

On the Monday evening I demonstrated the phosphate and nitrate tests currently used by CPRE in their Citizen Science Project. I drew up some Lugg river water in a jug at the Priory Bridge next to the Community Centre where we are stitching.

Priory bridge in Leominster when Lugg levels were high
Phosphate and nitrate colour charts, which match my Mortimer’s Cross millsack embroideries quite by chance!
My CPRE volunteer buddy collecting a sample from the Humber Brook (old arches of Roman bridge just visible in background)
Cylinder to measure turbidity of water, taken as the height of a column of water at which the black and white disc at the bottom of the column is no longer visible.

I showed the detailled drawings by English social historian Dorothy Hartley (1893- 1985) in her book published in 1964 ‘Water in England‘ documenting the smallest details of water management in our country through the ages. Her drawings and observations notice everyday details through to larger management schemes.

Dorothy Hartley’s Diagram of a city’s water, as needed for a city’s industries, Water in England (1964, pp.88)

I read Dorothy Hartley’s passage called ‘The leading of water over the hills’ which tells of the water diverting skills of the agricultural hillside workers that they took with them in the Industrial revolution to hep drier lands.

Dorothy Hartley’s writing ‘Leading of water over the hills‘ p 166-168, Water in England, 1964

I re/introduced the work of Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring, now sixty years old and her writing ‘A fable for tomorrow’.

Rachel Carson’s ground breaking book published originally in 1962
About Rachel Carson and a reading from her book Silent Spring (1962) – A fable for tomorrow.

I also read Rachel’s words about ‘Ground water’

Rachel Carson’s writing on Groundwater, from Silent Spring (1962)

Exhibition at Marches Makers Festival 30th April – 2nd May 2022

I have lots of blog posts to catch up on from the past few sessions, but am posting some images below of the exhibition that has been on for the last 3 days, and de-installed this morning. I have posted a lot of images as not all the stitchers have been able to visit the exhibition but may want to spot their snowdrop/s in the installation.

It took most the day to stitch the snowdrops and baskets together

It was exhibited alongside other artists work on a theme of nature, at Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors Centre, which is owned by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.

Here are the 158 snowdrops stitched by 42 stitchers, displayed in strewing baskets

A bit dishevelled on the last day of the festival

Starting at the lowest basket and working upstream….

and flowing back downstream…

Close ups of baskets….

Details of individual snowdrops

The exhibition was visited by many of the stitchers and a book of visitors comments collected. On the last day there were 77 visitors, and about another 100 across the previous two days.

Each snowdrop was numbered on its back, embroidered in a corner, and a display board detailled the stitcher behind each numbered snowdrop.

River Voices of the Wye

On 28th February, Marsha O’Mahony kindly came to talk to the Monday night stitchers about her project capturing the stories of people along the River Wye, which the Lugg flows into just below Mordiford. She has written a book and shared some snippets from this too.

Well worth a read

I didn’t record this talk as Marsha often gives talks locally about Herefordshire stories that she has gathered from its people and it is ell worth hearing them in person. Her background is journalism and she demonstrated her passion for following leads to unearth these hidden histories.

What I found most surprising were the stories of the River Wye teaming with salmon in the past and the overfishing that took place in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Additionally the size of the fish caught was unexpected.

The River Lugg itself is more associated with brown trout (Salmo trutta) and grayling (Thymallus thymallus). Both are species of freshwater fish from the salmon family.

We were also introduced to the role of the unsung Ghillies on the river who helped out on fishing expeditions and were guardians of the river.

The River Lugg in flood

I went out on 21/2/22 to capture some images of the Lugg in flood from just below Leominster up to Mortimer’s Cross.

Looking towards Stoke Prior from the A49
No driving through this
Soggy golf course at Ford Bridge
Kingsland Bridge
Looking upstream at Kingsland Bridge
Looking downstream at Kingsland Bridge where the bank had been altered in December 2020
Snowdrops by the side of the Lugg at Kingsland
Mortimer’s Cross upstream of the bridge
Mortimer’s Cross downstream of the bridge
Riverside snowdrops at Mortimer’s Cross
The Weir at Mortimer’s Cross
Looking upstream at the Weir

Composing a charm to send the floodwaters of the Lugg back within the river’s banks

Photo of the Lugg flooding in 1910 by Leominster Railway Station, seen on Heritage board at Leominster station today

On 23rd February, the Lugg was in flood.

The Embroiderers at Rose Tinted Rags stitched snowdrops and composed a charm to help alleviate the floods across the county. One stitcher took the words home and wrote out the words in white ink on black card with enchanting illustrations reminiscent of the Mappa Mundi (image to follow).

Rose Tinted Rags composing a charm

A week later Artist Kate Green joined us and played and sang the words to the tune she had composed for it, with the stitchers permission.

Kate Green performing her tune written for ‘ A charm for the Lugg’ at Rose Tinted Rags

The following week later, Poet Robert Crompton read the words to the Thursday Leominster group, and we were all pleased to find that the charm had worked its magic; the floods waters had subsided!

Robert reading ‘A charm for the Lugg’

The stitchers at Rose Tinted Rags were delighted to hear their poem read and we listened to it a few times, playing it again to a visitor that day whilst we stitched.

Work in progress
Re-threading the needle

The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross

15th Century helmet found in River Lugg (image from Wiki Commons)

On 21st February, one dark Monday evening, Jason O’Keefe, historian and battle re-enactment specialist kindly came to talk us through the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross which took place in 1461 flanked by the River Lugg, somewhere, it is thought, between Kingsland and Mortimers Cross. He spoke of the main protagonists and historical evidence for what is known of the battle.

Below is a recording of the talk, with Jason’s permission to share it, although obviously you cannot see the slideshow. The talk ends with his description of the 15th century helmet found in the River Lugg just below Mortimer’s Cross; this is now in Hereford Museum.

Jason O’Keefe’s talk given to The Lugg Embroiderers about The Battle of Mortimers Cross

Snowdrop linocut by Susan Stevens-Jenkins

‘January Snowdrops’ linocut by Susan Steven-Jenkins, 2022

One of the Lugg embroiderers, Susan Stevens-Jenkins is a printmaker and I spied this linocut of hers on social media. I have purchased it as a personal momento of this project with its new connections made with people in the community and special times spent stitching together. Each colour layer is separately printed one over the other so you can imagine how diffcult it must be to keep an image so crisp and clear as she has done here. I love the sweeping curves throughout.

Sue will also be showing her work at our first exhibtion on 30th April – 2nd May as part of the Marches Makers Festival. This will be held at at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors’ Centre, HR5 3EY.

The exhibtion is called Heart of the Matter II – Responses to Nature from the Marches‘ and is curated by Michael J Hancock. As well as showing this projects work by The Lugg Embroiderers (us) and printmaker Susan Stevens-Jenkins it will also show works by:
Nancy Frost (ceramics), Nick Clarke (furniture), Lorenzo Gavarini, Jane O’Connor, Rose Tinted Rags (paint), Michael J Hancock, Graeme Hobbs (print), Inga Sipcenoka (textiles).

The address is Birches Farm Nature Reserve Visitors’ Centre, HR5 3EY. Open Sat, Sun & Mon 10am – 5pm. Please be aware there is a small step and some rough ground.

For more details see https://www.marchesmakers.co.uk/

Poetry readings by Robert Crompton including the Seventh Song of Poly-Olbion

Robert Crompton kindly offered to attempt to read the Seventh Song of the Poly-Olbion poem by Michael Drayton. I had been alerted to it by Pete Blench, Leominster’s local Historian who said there was a 1600’s long poem about the Marriage of the Lugg and the Wye. It was written in 1612 and as a whole, is a topographical poem decribing England and Wales.

Where the Lugg meets the Wye, just south of Mordiford

It has thirty songs completely, each describing between one and three counties. It was also a collaboration with William Hole who added illustrated maps of each county, with places depicted by applying human and non-human traits and emotions. It was also accompanied with work by John Selden in the form of summaries of history and text.

William Hole’s frontispiece (from the Folger Shakespeare Library [http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/7ihql3])

Even the Poly-Olbion seventh song itself is very long, so Robert tried to find a natural break and ended up reading one part of it today and the second part two weeks later. However to warm us up he first read a lovely poem by E.V Knox that he had found that mentions the River Lugg called Hell in Herefordshire. It was written as a riposte to the Bishop of Hereford who had been bemoaning the evils of cider. Knox was the editor of Punch at the time and lived in Herefordshire. it especially made me laugh as each year my husband gathers as many apples as possible to press and brew sparking cider in the garden, or ‘quider’ which is his mix of apples and quince donated from a neighbour’s tree.

Hell in Herefordshire

The wild white rose is cankered

Along the vale of Lugg;

There is poison in the tankard; 

There is murder in the mug.

Through all the pleasant valley

Where stand the pale-faced kine,

Men raise the Devil’s chalice

And drink this bitter wine.

Unspeakable carouses

That shame the summer sky

Take place in little houses

That look towards the Wye.

And near the Radnor border

And the dark hills of Wales,

Beelzebub is warder,

And sorcery prevails.

For, spite of Church and chapel,

Ungodly folk there be

Who pluck the cider apple

From the cider apple tree,

And squeeze it in their presses

Until the juice runs out,

At various addresses

That no-one knows about.

And, maddened by the orgies

Of that ungodly brew,

They slit each others’ gorges

From one a.m. till two,

Till Ledbury is in shambles,

And in the dirt and mud

Where Leominster sits and gambles,

The dice are stained with blood.

But still, if strength suffices,

Before the day is done,

I’ll go and share the vices

Of Clungunford and Clun

But watch the red sun sinking

Across the March again,

And join the secret drinking

Of outlaws at Presteigne.

E.V. Knox
Robert Crompton reading ‘Hell in Herefordshire’

The feeling of stitching whilst being read this poem was extrordinary. It felt as though we were travelling in a hot air balloon looking down on the landscape of the Marches; its almost a conversation between the mountains and the valleys, connected by the rivers. Robert did well to read the Old English and brought it to life for the stitchers. The place names acted as place holders, orientating us in the flight.

Robert Crompton reading roughly the first half of the Seventh Song from Poly-Olbion

To read more about Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, please see the Exeter University’s Poly-Olbion Project.

Robert Crompton brought along his own poem about Pinsley Brook and the trees that line it to read to the stitchers on 3rd March 2022. It’s a delight, click below to hear it:

Robert Crompton’s own poem about Pinsley Brook

To hear the second part read by Robert on 3rd March click below. He reads so well he is now in demand for a Festival day in Leominster on July 8th as part of the Council’s Save the Lugg campaign.

Robert Crompton reading roughly the second half of the Seventh Song from Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, written in 1612.
Poet Robert Crompton reading to The Lugg Embroiderers

Thank you Robert, I love the idea that all these words were somehow captured in the listening stitchers’ embroideries.