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Ross-on-Wye – the birthplace of tourism

Crucial Information:

Welsh name: Rhosan ar Wy

Ross is derived from the Welsh for 'promontory' and the '-on-Wye' was added in 1931 to distinguish it from other communities called Ross.

Population 10 059

Twinned with Condé-sur-Noireau, France, Betzdorf, Germany and Namutumba, Uganda


The town

King Stephen, in the 12th Century, granted Ross the right to hold a market. In the 17th century a market hall was built from sandstone – and today this building still functions as a market place.

In 1967, on the cusp of becoming famous, Pink Floyd were booked to appear at a ballroom in Ross-on-Wye. According to witnesses they were thrown off stage for refusing to turn down the volume on their amplifiers.

Today the town is known for antique shops. Numerous craft shops and tea shops can also be found.


The Birth of Tourism

In 1782 William Gilpin published his book Observations on the River Wye and several parts of South Wales, etc. relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the summer of the year 1770 – the first illustrated guide book in Britain. This book introduced to the general public the term ‘picturesque’.

The guide led to an interest in the River Tour – which quickly became popular and lasted until 1850. The most popular starting point for the Wye Tour was Ross (as it was then called) making it the birthplace of British tourism.

The Wye Tour’s popularity peaked during the Napoleonic Wars around the early 19th century. This was when travel around mainland Europe – notably the Grand Tour enjoyed by the upper classes – was unadvisable.

The Wye Tour was also a more affordable option than the Grand Tour for the middle classes.



The Church of St Mary’s is the most prominent landmark of Ross-on-Wye and can be seen from miles around. The Church was dedicated in 1316 – following thirty years of building. The spire was added a few years later - and is 205 feet high.

Noel Gordon (1919 – 1985) most famous for playing Motel owner Meg in the long running soap Crossroads is buried in the church yard.


The Plague Cross

Also known as the Corpse Cross, the Plague Cross was erected in 1637 in memory of the 315 townsfolk who died from bubonic plague in that same year. It stands in the church yard of St Mary’s. The victims of the plague were buried at night, without coffins, in a plague pit near to where the cross stands.

Over the years the cross fell into disrepair. By 1896 its cross was missing, but it was later restored.


A Year on the Wye DVD

A Year on the Wye DVD cover


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Ross on WyeRoss on Wye
St Mary's Church dominates the landscape © Star Video 2011


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Ross on Wye's Market HallRoss on Wye's Market Hall
Ross-on-Wye's market hall © Star Video 2011
Ross on Wye's Plague CrossRoss on Wye's Plague Cross
Detail on the Plague Cross © Star Video 2011
© 2011 Star Video