One of Ledbury's best known faces, Andy Ward, is leaving town after 25 years behind the bar at The Talbot, and after playing a key role in community life.

Mr Ward, aged 68, was the initial mover and shaker behind Ledbury's twinning with the Swedish town of Stromstad and, for many years, he was chairman of the town's Tourism Association.

He also organised Ledbury's popular English Festival, which featured a St George's Day procession in the town centre, and he was liaison officer and photographer for Ledbury Carnival.

Mr Ward is retiring to the Isle of Man, where his wife, Maria, also a very popular figure at The Talbot, has a new position as a counsellor.

This week, the couple looked back on their time in the town, which as well as many fond memories included escaping a damaging arson attack by the skin of their teeth, in 2009.

Mrs Ward said: "The town was so kind, offering us help. We'd lost everything we had in Ledbury, all the basic stuff you have as human beings, and we also had to watch both our cars burning."

She remembers standing in the street, without even socks on her feet, because of the need to get out quickly.

Mr Ward added: "It was only the fact I snore that I was able to save everyone's life!"

Maria woke him up and Mr Ward thought he could smell burning. Then, looking through the bedroom window he spotted the reflection of fierce flames in windows across the road.

Mr Ward went through the hotel, waking up the guests, and he recalled, "One lady even asked if she had time to take a shower!"

Necessary refurbishment of the Wadworth-owned hotel took around five months afterwards, but the town was determined to show its appreciation for the Wards, in their hour of need.

Mr Ward was Ledbury Rotary Club's Citizen of the Year for 2009.

Over the years, he has also been presented with several Distinguished Citizens awards by Ledbury Town Council.

The couple were also invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, because of their services to the community.

Mr Ward said: "Maria has been inspirational; without her support I would not have been able to do the things I did to help the town."

Mr Ward was the driving force behind the quirky Ledbury English Festival, which ran for five years from 2001 and featured town centre events such as a string of sausages relay, tossing the faggot and a black pudding push, involving blindfolded butchers. There was also live music and the St George's Parade with a dragon. One of the festivals helped to launch that year's Ledbury in Bloom campaign, to show community support and to help the town achieve one of its first gold medals.

The extent to which the Wards have been at the heart of Ledbury is shown by the fact that the couple chose to be married in the town's iconic building, The Market House, in 1999.

Maria, originally a teacher from Romania, said this was one of her happiest memories.

Last Saturday at the Talbot saw an outpouring of love for the couple, with 150 guests attending a surprise farewell party with live music and poems and songs in their honour.

Mr Ward said: "There were two cakes: one for the retirement and another for 25 years at The Talbot. It was very moving; very special."

Former Ledbury Tourist Information Centre supervisor, Chris Clarke said: " Andy was so involved with everything that happened in the town. I think he should get a big thank you for everything he's done. Ledbury will never be the same again. It is so sad that he and Maria are going."

Former Ledbury mayor, Ken Davies, who relaunched Ledbury Carnival more than three decades ago and is a driving force behind Ledbury in Bloom, said: "Andy will be missed, very much so; he was very much involved in getting tourism going in the town."

The new manager of The Talbot, in New Street, is Richard Jennings.