Leon Bracelin finds magic, mystery and evidence in support of history amongst the castle ruins and beneath the town walls. Below is an edited extract of the interview which you can watch here.
What is your connection to Ludlow?
I am an incomer! I got here at the end of 1993 and I’ve never looked back. I do feel as if I’ve come home, though. There’s a familiarity about the place. I was brought up on the East Coast in Essex and I arrived in Ludlow and as soon as I got here – I was only a youngster at the time – I fell in love with the place. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful place.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself. What is your background?
Obviously, I work professionally as an archaeologist but my mum was like an entertainer really. She was in the circus in the 50s and 60s. My dad was an anthropologist and he was interested in culture, more abstract, esoteric things and in fact, he has got a lot of his stuff in the Boscastle Witchcraft Museum in Cornwall. My parents were very open. I had a very good background really but we’re all travellers. On my Dad’s side, we actually come from the Basque country, on the French side, hence my name.
Let’s finish this sentence, “as an archaeologist, living around Ludlow is the bees’ knees because…”
It is unusual, it’s unique, it’s a little bit like Twin Peaks! It’s embedded with historical context and there is a whole embodiment of archaeological finds and features all around and within the town. In fact, at the back of the castle along the walkway, [which was laid] in 1725, if you look at the embankment, you’ll see oyster shells, clay pipes, medieval pottery. It’s actually a giant rubbish heap – in archaeological terms it’s called a midden. If you dug a trench straight through [it], you will get heavily stratified remains.
Tell us something about hidden, historical Ludlow that nobody knows
Ludlow, I have come to discover, not only does it have archaeological, beautiful features all about the town that are evident and it’s also got this fantastic, dominating 11th Century castle. Five years ago, I did a subterranean, archaeological survey of Ludlow. Underneath the pavements and underneath the town is a fascinating subterranean landscape. I surveyed about 78 cellars. I was testing the theory, the urban myth between castle sites and tunnel entrances. We discovered seven blocked-off entrances all about the town. Down at the Wheatsheaf [Inn], we actually revealed the stone drawbridge foundation underneath the road. It’s amazing. There is a possibility that there is a 17th Century dungeon behind it as well. There’s a lot.
What is your favourite historical site in and around the Marches, beyond Ludlow, and why?
I would say the castle but no! Ludlow has a wonderful landscape and within 5 or 10 miles of here, there is a particular place I go to in the Walton Valley*. It’s in mid Wales, the land of the dragon and it’s a beautiful area embedded with prehistoric archaeology and there’s a very big ritual landscape there. The pre-historic side of side of things is very complicated but it’s such a beautiful place. I often go to a secret, little haunt called Water Break-Its-Neck.
*commonly known as the Walton Basin or The Radnor Valley
Tell us about your perfect day in Ludlow
At this moment in time, 2018, it would be in the summer, on a lovely, gorgeous day down by the river with some of my students, looking at the landscape under the river and the archaeology of the old, medieval, wooden bridge that came across the river and adjoins this castle. So, summer months, when the sun finally gets here, jumping into the river is fantastic, with a pint of ice-cold cider afterwards.
What is your favourite watering hole in Ludlow?
It’s the Wheatsheaf Inn, where we discovered the drawbridge under the road. It’s a fantastic, 16th Century pub, it’s beautiful and it was built in the old town ditch and it’s right next to the Broadgate which is 13th Century and is one of the seven that Ludlow had at one point.