SHE was a plain Jane whose clothes were drab and dull, but her adoring fans thought she was the most beautiful thing on earth when she began to sign. Flashback recalls the time Herefordshire played host to Jenny Lind - 'the Swedish Nightingale'.

AT the height of her career Jenny Lind was probably the finest soprano of all time. She was a superstar known as 'the Swedish Nightingale' and for many years the Three Choirs Festival tried desperately without success to attract the sensational songbird.

There was knockback after knockback and then at last - at the Hereford Festival of 1867 - she agreed to sing. Two long-established favourites by Mendelssohn and Handel went well but also performed was Ruth, an oratorio written by her husband Otto Goldschmidt.

Contemporary accounts of what happened tell contrasting stories. At times it seems the nightingale wowed her Hereford audience; but there were occasions when apparently a crow took over the perch.

It was nevertheless a memorable occasion in the Three Choirs Hereford annals. For Jenny Lind, who lived in a magnificent house Wynds Point on the Herefordshire/ Worcestershire border on the Malvern Hills, was one of the biggest names ever to grace the city scene.

Her rise to stardom had started in the late 1820s when she gave a one-girl concert - to her cat!

A passing servant was stunned by the sound and informed her mistress who was a dancer at a major theatre. A performance before the principal teacher of an opera company followed and he was moved to tears. Jenny was on her way and soon became the number one of Swedish opera.

Jenny had a face not unlike a prize-fighter's fist and she was quite content to wear uninspiring clothes. But this mattered not when she started to sing for her voice transformed the listener's perception of what was before them.

Here was a beautiful creature, creating a sound like no other could. In time, 'Jenny Lind fever' broke out and infected music lovers throughout the world.

London fell under her spell and in 1847 she appeared in Robert de Normandie. Admission was costly, but every seat was sold and the top box was packed with royals. Many of the audience sat enthralled, not bothered that their bodies were bruised and clothes tattered after having to fight to find their seats.

Lindmania was truly incredible with applause thundering out in 20-minute bursts and as cheering at the climax reached a crescendo the Queen tossed her own bouquet at the feet of the delighted diva.

The English adored Mendelssohn and Lind's interpretation of his works also led them to take her to their hearts.

It was late in her career that Jenny Lind performed in Hereford and, according to Anthony Boden, in his history of the Three Choirs, scored a fair success with Elijah and Messiah.

Reported one account: "Those who know the intense absorption of Madame Goldschmidt in her work and the wonderful combinations of earnestness and intelligence she brings to its performance will not require to be told what an effect she made in the impassioned music of her part in Elijah. Years have produced their inevitable effect upon the voice which once cast a spell over every listener, but the instinct of the artist remains strong as ever, and asserted, this morning, all its old power."

And the nightingale of old impressed one writer to record: "The rendering of the sublimest of airs I Know That My Redeemer Liveth by Madame Goldschmidt was a marvel of artistic skill and profound expression."

But, as Boden wrote, 'the instinct of the artist' was insufficient to make a success of her husband's composition Ruth - a work described by The Musical World as 'an unsymmetrical corpse'.

The Times noted that not one of the many choruses was gone through from end to end without impediment.

And a Hereford critic stated: "Madame Lind-Goldschmidt's exertions in the part of Ruth were almost painful to witness; her once fine voice is gone'.

But the glittering career and that unique voice were not to be forgotten and her death on November 2, 1887 sparked widespread mourning. She was the only woman to be honoured with a memorial plaque in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.