Ludlow's recorded history begins in 1086 when the impressive castle was first developed. Ludlow Castle, on a hill overlooking the rivers Teme and Corve, was built as one of a line of castles along the Marches to keep out the Welsh. The castle was founded by the de Lacy family of Stanton Lacy, probably between 1086 and 1094, at that time occupying a much smaller area than it does now. A planned town was laid out at the castle gate very soon afterwards. Ludlow seems to have been taken from the existing parish of Stanton Lacy, the church which lies about three miles to the north-west. Until the last century the keep of the castle remained an isolated part of Stanton Lacy parish, the boundary of the parish extended up to the very edge of the town.
There are nearly 500 listed buildings in Ludlow and the original medieval street layout survives to this day almost unchanged. The town has many half-timbered buildings, notably the Jacobean Feathers Hotel and buildings in Dinham which borders the castle wall. Its grammar school, founded in 1282, is now a sixth form college. To the north of the town, is the impressive St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. The Clee Hills lie east and northeast of the town.
In the late 12th and early 13th centuries the castle was extended, and part of the grid pattern of streets immediately to the south was obscured by the enlarged outer bailey. From 1233 onwards the town walls were constructed, and as at Southhampton and Canterbury, the castle stood within the circuit of the walls and shared a common line of defence. Ludlow had several medieval suburbs laid out in a planned fashion beyond the gates. An arts festival is held annually in the castle with open-air theatrical performances of Shakespeare plays. John Milton's masque Comus was first presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634.
The watchtower and round chapel of this ruined castle date from the late 11th century. Ludlow Castle played a key role in some turbulent events in English history. One of its 14th-century owners, Roger Mortimer, helped his mistress Queen Isabella, in the overthrow of her husband Edward II. In 1473, the Prince of Wales and his brother were held here before their mysterious death in the Tower of London. In 1502 Prince Arthur, Henry VII's son and heir to the throne, died at Ludlow. The castle became crown property in 1461, though it was acquired by the 2nd Earl of Powis in 1811. Edward V, Prince Arthur and other royal children were brought up at Ludlow and the castle became the headquarters of the Council of the Marches, which governed Wales and the border counties until 1689. The Council's courts were very active, and the town was full of lawyers, clerks and royal messengers.
Ludlow was a highly successful development. By 1377 it had 1,172 tax-paying residents, which placed it thirty-third in the list of English towns of that date. Ludlow was a fortified town, one of just over a hundred in England and Wales which had a full circuit of walls. Apart from the Castle, it retains some well-preserved stretches of town wall and the sites of its seven gates can readily be identified. As in most fortified towns, the walls and gates served many purposes other than defence. They were a means of controlling the entry of all sorts of undesirables, many of them far less formidable than invading armies. They enable market tolls to be collected easily and gave support to lean-to buildings. In times of peace they were a ready source of building stone, and continued to exercise a strong influence on the topography of the town long after their defensive function had ceased.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Ludlow was a fashionable social centre and county families built elegant brick houses. Glove making was now the major industry reaching a peak production of 660,000 gloves in 1814. Population grew rapidly, causing many back buildings in the congested town centre, though after 1850 there was expansion eastwards.
Dominating the town centre is the exceptionally fine 15th-century parish church of St Laurence, with its 41m / 135ft elegant tower, wonderfully carved misericords and stained glass windows, reflecting the town's prosperity as a centre of the wool trade in the Middle Ages. The ashes of the poet A. E. Housman (1859-1936), the author of 'A Shropshire Lad', were scattered in the churchyard.
A stroll through Ludlow's streets is pure pleasure, one striking individual structure is the Feathers Hotel, with its timber frames and decorative carving. Broad Street has a delightful parade of shops which include De Grey's famous tearooms. There are a plethora of good eating places in Ludlow - in fact it is claimed that Ludlow has more restaurants per person than any other place in Britain. Buttercross stands at the far end of the market Place and is home to the Town Council offices.
Today, the population of Ludlow is just under 10,000 and industries include precision engineering, cabinet making, and the manufacture of agricultural machinery. Tourism is important, particularly retailing to the town's visitors.