Gaol Sentences

In the churchyard at St Chad’s in Lichfield there’s a gravestone belonging to John Prickett who died in March 1832, at the age of 63. According to the inscription, he was ‘thirty Years keeper of the Goal in this City’.

John Prickett's grave at St Chad's, Lichfield

John Prickett’s grave at St Chad’s, Lichfield

Clearly, Mr Prickett’s epitaph is not referring to a Peter Shilton-esque stint in a number one jersey for Lichfield City FC, so has the stonemason made a spelling mistake? Not exactly….

In Dr Johnson’s dictionary (I used the online version), the entry for ‘gaol’ is as follows: GAOL (gaol Welsh; geole French) A prison; a place of confinement. It is always pronounced and too often written jail and sometimes goal.  John Ash includes a separate entry for ‘goal’ in his ‘New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1775 defining it as ‘gaol or jail’, with a note that this is the incorrect spelling (1).

Incorrect it may have been, but this spelling of the word as ‘goal’ crops up frequently in old newspapers (including the Newcastle Courant newspaper on 22nd February 1716 who reported that ‘A Brazier in Holburn is committed to Chelmsford Goal for robbing on the highway in the County of Essex’ and closer to home in April 1832, the Staffordshire Advertiser listed the people committed to Stafford Goal) and is also in evidence above the door of the Shire Hall in Nottingham, underneath a later amendment to the more usual spelling.

County Gaol, Shire Hall, Nottingham. (Alan Murray-Rust) / CC BY-SA 2.0

By 1801, around the time Mr Prickett was handed the keys, Lichfield Gaol had fourteen cells but during the nineteenth century doesn’t appear to have ever reached anything like full capacity. In a report submitted to the government regarding the proposed Gaols Act of 1823, John Prickett stated, ‘The small number of Prisoners at this time in this Gaol and the smallness of the Prison render it difficult to introduce the Regulations required by the new Act and many of them cannot be acted upon in a Prison on so small a scale’. A report to the House of Commons in 1835 said ‘It frequently happens that there are no prisoners at all but three or four may be taken as the daily average’ and between January 1st and December 31st 1839, only 34 people were admitted (including two debtors).

Perhaps one of the reasons for the low numbers of inmates is that they kept escaping. Some, like Smith and Cotterell in March 1837, used the classic sheets tied together method, and climbed over the wall into the yard of the George IV pub next door. Others were less conventional – in April 1890, Harry Oliver climbed up into a ventilator space above his cell and crawled beneath ‘the floor of the volunteer armoury above’, before dropping ten feet into the yard of the George IV.  Perhaps the greatest escape happened on Mr Prickett’s watch (who, in this instance, was obviously not watching) in July 1820 when it was reported that ‘the whole of the prisoners in the county gaol of Lichfield, six in number, made their escape’.

No escaping for him...

No escaping for him…

You can find out more about the place that they were escaping from by reading the reports written by the Inspector of Prisons after visiting in 1839 and 1847 and the Old Guildhall Cells are open on Saturdays until September for you to visit yourself (more info here). If you happen to spot any of the former residents’ initials and names, ‘cut deep into the woodwork’, as noted by the Inspector, please let me know!   

prison door

Notes

(1) On the subject of mistakes, it’s worth mentioning the howler that John Ash made when compiling his dictionary. Johnson had included the word ‘curmudgeon’ in his dictionary, and suggested that it was derived from a pronunciation of ‘coeur mechant’, information that he noted he had received ‘Fr. an unknown correspondent’. Ash, clearly taking his definition straight from Johnson’s, took the abbreviation Fr. to mean ‘French’ rather than ‘From’, and so ended up with his entry for curmudgeon suggesting that it derived from the French for ‘unknown correspondent’. Ash’s dictionary is also famous for being the first to include definitions for the F-word and C-word in English, words that may well have been uttered when Ash realised his error…

Sources:

‘Lichfield: Town government’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 73-87

Noah Webster and the American Dictionary by David Micklethwait

http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/

Ale Tales

One of the many lost pubs that John Gallagher found for us on the brilliant Lichfield Discovered tour he led on Monday was the former Windsor Castle on Dam Street (1). There is a great story about this pub, which J W Jackson shared in his Lichfield Mercury column in 1939. I feel like I should take it with a pinch of salted peanuts, but it’s worth sharing again here.

‘Its (the Windsor Castle’s) backyard runs along the back of the workshops of Messrs R Bridgeman and Son, the well-known ecclesiastical sculptors, and it appears, years ago, the carvers in order to obtain liquid refreshment without leaving their work, ingeniously removed several bricks from the wall which separated the shop from the Windsor Castle, and through the aperture received bottles of stout or beer from the licensee (a lady at that time) at a certain time each morning and then replaced the bricks. This arrangement worked very smoothly for a long time until one morning the late Mr R Bridgeman brought a visitor into the shop to see the sculptors at work just at the time when the ‘refreshment’ was due and, of course, the men could not remove the loose bricks. Suddenly, a voice sounded clearly through from the other side of the wall, ‘Now, then you b___s, don’t you want your porter this morning?’ Mr Bridgeman, who had his back to the men at that moment, swung around quickly and taking in the situation shouted ‘Joe, come here at once and block up this hole and use cement’. (Joe was Joe Stokes who lived for many years in the little old cottage which still stands in Quonian’s Lane, adjoining the offices)’.

Mr Jackson goes on to describe how the workers got around this setback by bringing bottles into the workshop in their wheelbarrows, storing the empties in their tool chests until the coast was clear, and then returning them to the establishment for a refill.

The former 'Windsor Castle' public house

The former ‘Windsor Castle’ public house

Mr Jackson refers to the Windsor Castle as Lichfield’s oldest licensed house, a claim which I was puzzled by after reading in the official listed building description that the property only dates back to the ‘mid to late 18thc with late 19thc alterations’. However, by delving into Lichfield’s District Council’s online planning records, I have found a survey of the building (2) carried out around seven years ago, which suggests that part of the building may in fact date back to the 16thc. According to the surveyors, the original building would have been a simple one room wide structure running north/south along Dam St. The current facade was added in the early 19thc and it’s thought that the height of the roof was increased and the oriel windows added at this time too (although I’m sure John showed us a photograph of the pub without these windows on? Can anyone else remember?)

Whenever they were added, those windows feature a curious and seemingly eclectic collection of carvings.  I’m not even sure what some of them are supposed to be, but in Lichfield’s very own pub quiz version of ‘Only Connect‘, I give you a man with a fish, a man drinking beer, some sort of castle, Lichfield Cathedral and an owl, a man composing music (possibly the same man as the one with the fish?) and a building with some foliage. Are they telling a tale of some sort, and if so, what is it?

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windsor castle carvings

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Notes:

1) A great write up of the walk can be found here, together with some photographs of the other pubs we visited on the night.
2)Something else I noticed on the survey were references to, ‘inappropriate repair works undertaken to the brickworks using a cement based mortar’, which, in view of how the Bridgeman workers’ cheeky ruse came to an end, made me smile.

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive
Smiths Gore Condition Survey, 16 Dam Street, Lichfield (08/00186/LBC)

Well Wishers

Last week, a group of us took in the waters at St Chad’s Well as part of a Lichfield Myths and Legends cycle tour organised by James of Lichwheeld. I’ve written previously about how the appearance (and apparently, the actual location!) of the well has changed over the years here, but I’ve recently found some contemporary accounts of the well’s previous incarnation – a ‘vertical tube built of engineering bricks, covered with a kind of gloomy sentry-box of stone’, which had apparently become so neglected in the 1940s that only a few inches of stagnant water covered in a green scum remained in the bottom of the pool. (1)

On the legends trail at St Chad's Well. Photo by Lichwheeld

On the legends trail at St Chad’s Well. Photo by Lichwheeld

In November 1946, the Bishop of Stafford lamented that the well had once been a place of great pilgrimage but had fallen into a state of neglect and considerable disrepair and in April 1948, E Sutton, a former caretaker of the well, described it as having degenerated into a wishing well. A few weeks later, Mr Sutton submitted a further letter to the Mercury, advising, ‘I have again visited the site and found it in a worse state than on my visit there last Autumn. Then boards covered the Well. These are now removed and the Well is full of rubbish, among brick-bats and wood being a worn out coal bag! I noticed too, among the bricks and stonework lying around in wild confusion the ancient ‘St Chad’s Stone’, which the historian Leland, writing of his visit to the Well some four hundred years ago, states was then believed to be the very stone upon St Chad stood in the icy water as an act of penance, it then being the bottom of the Well. When the small building was erected over the Well in Stuart times, this stone was incorporated into the building, no doubt in order to preserve it. Many hundreds of hands have been placed upon it, mostly with reverence, since. It now lies among the rubbish, one corner broken. A fitting symbol of the ideals of 1948!’ (2)

St Chads Well

St Chad’s Well today

Saint Chad's c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

Saint Chad’s Well c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

I’m intrigued by this reference to ‘the ancient St Chad’s stone’. When James Rawson described the site prior to his restoration in the 1830s, he noted that, ‘the well-basin had become filled up with mud and filth; and on top of this impurity a stone had been placed, which was described as the identical stone on which Saint Chad used to kneel and pray!’. Despite Rawson’s apparent scepticism about these claims, was he somehow persuaded to use this stone in his new well structure, thereby perpetuating the myth? I’d love to see what went on in those discussions and I’d really like to know what happened to this legendary stone. St Chad may not have been anywhere near it, but the fact that people believed he had should have made it worth saving for posterity’s sake.

Water in the well

Water in the well

Unfortunately for Mr Sutton, the restoration of the well did not put a stop to people using St Chad’s Well for wishes, as evidenced by the layer of coins that still glint beneath the water, tossed in at some point over the last half century or so. It’s often suggested that this is the continuation of a ritual that our ancestors were carrying out a long, long time before St Chad arrived in Lichfield. Some things change. Some stay the same.

Notes

(1) The octagonal stone well structure erected by Rawson in the 1830s, as described by the Lichfield Mercury on May 6th 1949!

(2) A little off topic, but it’s amusing to see that it’s not just nowadays that letters appear in the Lichfield Mercury suggesting that society is going to hell in a handcart. Once again, some things stay the same…

All Alongside the Watchtower

At the church of St Michael’s and All Angels, in Hamstall Ridware I was greeted by four arms waving (a sword) at me from a tomb. It belongs to the splendidly named Thomas Stronginthearm, who left this small village for the bright candles of Chicago in 1803, before making a final journey back home home to rest in the Staffordshire soil which his family had toiled upon – according to the church booklet, the Stronginthearms were yeoman famers.

Stronginthearm

The name appears several times in the Hamstall Ridware parish registers, available online here, recording all those who were baptised, married and buried here between 1598 and 1812. There are also other snippets of information on life in the village, including an entry in June 1806 when the Rector Edward Cooper led twenty five parishioners on a procession around its boundaries, beginning at Gallows Green, going along the Yoxall Rd as far as Sutton’s Farm, and then proceeding towards the Trent. Later that Summer, Edward’s cousin Jane Austen came to stay with him for five weeks, and it’s believed that she may have used Hamstall Ridware as inspiration for the fictional ‘Delaford’ in Sense and Sensibility. http://www2.lichfielddc.gov.uk/hamstallridware/about/

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On the subject of baptism, there are three fonts here. Inside the church is the one that is currently used, which dates from nineteenth century and there’s the lovely Norman bowl which was relocated here from the church of St James at Pipe Ridware. Outside, and being used as a flowerpot, is the third, also said to be Norman. At the time of the Burton Scientific Society’s visit to the church in 1924, this font was on the vicarage lawn. One of the society members, a Mr Noble claimed that it was the relatively recent work of an Armitage mason who did a good trade in producing mock ancient stonework, for people with antiquarian tastes. However, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland seem happy that the font is twelfth century, and presumably they know what they are talking about.

churchyard

There’s also the base of a medieval churchyard cross here to which a much later shaft and cross have been added, although a fragment of the original shaft remains nearby.  It was while I was having a look at this, that I noticed the ruins of a brick building, looming up behind the church tower.  This is the late 15thc/early 16thc watch tower, once part of the now derelict manor house, Hamstall Hall. When the Burton Scientific society visited, they climbed a wooden staircase to the roof where they enjoyed ‘a good view of the surrounding area’ – it’s said that you can see four counties from the top. Given that that the hall features on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ List and is considered to be at risk of collapsing, it’s probably best to take their word for it. There are other remains of the hall here too, which I missed, including a Tudor gateway, and the porch to the old hall.

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Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.   © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.
© Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In June 1939, the Derbyshire Times did a feature on a ninety three year old woman known as ‘Grannie Shelton’, who worked as a parlour maid and nurse at the hall, and married her husband on 19th March 1863 at St Michael’s. She told the paper that she had never seen a ghost but had once, ‘been down amongst the dead men’ – when a member of the Squire of Hamstall Hall’s family died she entered the family vault to have a look around and saw six coffins inside, each covered by a black cloth but with the white face of each of the corpses visible through the glass. Mrs Shelton also once dressed up as a ghost to scare the pantry boy that she suspected of stealing fruit from the Hall, causing him to run for his life shouting ‘The Devil is in the pantry!’ The devil may not have been in the pantry, but apparently he was found in a small hollow compartment in one of the bedrooms of the old manor house in the form of a stone image, complete with horns, depicted as ‘shaving a pig with red skin’ (I swear that I haven’ t made this up!). The report suggests that the Hall was formerly a Nunnery, and this hollow would have been somewhere nuns would carry out penance for breaking the rules. I can’t see any reference anywhere else to hall being used as a convent and I can’t help but wonder if it could have been a priests’ hole?  The hall belonged to the Catholic Fitzherbert family from 1517 to 1601. Sir Thomas Fitzherbert was imprisoned in the Tower of London for thirty years until his death on 2nd October 1591. All pure speculation on my part.

Feel like I’ve only just dipped my toe into the (holy) water when it comes to the history of Hamstall Ridware…

A Grave Matter

Recently, someone told me that there were some interesting gravestones at Holy Cross Catholic church on Upper Saint John St. As David Moore is on the lookout for examples of symbolism in the city’s churchyards for his upcoming Lichfield Discovered talk on the subject in September, I went to take a look.

Initially, I thought there had been a mistake as I couldn’t see any gravestones at all, but tucked around the side of the church I found just the three of them, side by side.

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The inscriptions are worn but the names are still legible. Names that I recognised at once. Around this time last year,  I wrote about the Corfield family who lost their lives when a fire swept through their home and business premises in Market Street in January 1873 (see here) and how rumour and legend had grown up around the tragedy.  It’s not so much the symbolism that is interesting here but the additional inscription on the middle stone – ‘Refused admission into St Michael’s Churchyard’. What does this mean exactly? It seems to contradict the Lichfield Mercury report from January 18th 1873 that,

‘The remains of the seven members of the family were conveyed in three hearses to St Michael’s Church-yard on Thursday afternoon and laid together in a square grave. The whole of the burial service was read at the grave by the Rector, the Rev J J Serjeantson; the burial service according to the Roman Catholic ritual, to which community the deceased belonged, had been read over the bodies by the Catholic priest at the Guildhall on Wednesday evening. The bodies were not taken in the church’.

All I can think is that it was these memorial stones which were not admitted into the churchyard at St Michael’s? Any thoughts or comments would be welcome.

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Every Picture Tells a Story

In 1961, the 21st Earl of Shrewsbury sold Ingestre Hall to what was then the West Bromwich Corporation. Along with the red-brick Jacobean style mansion came sixty-six paintings, most of them portraits of the Earl’s ancestors – the Chetwynd, Talbot and Shrewsbury family.The collection was catalogued in 2013 by the Ingestre Festival Association to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the building of the hall and is available to view on the BBC website here, as part of their ‘Your Paintings’ project.

Ingestre Hall

Ingestre Hall by Jason Kirkham

Amongst them are George Talbot, Keeper of Mary Queen of Scots for fifteen years and his wife Bess of Hardwick, arguably the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England. The 19th Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles John Chetwynd-Talbot, appears twice – aged four and wearing a red dress and aged around twenty five and wearing full dress uniform. The infamous Anna Maria is here too, as a young woman of seventeen, in the year that she wed Francis Talbot and became Countess of Shrewsbury. The marriage would end with the Earl’s death, fatally wounded by his wife’s lover, George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in a duel that took place on 16th March 1667. The event was recorded by Samuel Pepys who described Anna Maria as, ‘my Lady Shrewsbury, who is a whore, and is at this time, and hath for a great while been, a whore to the Duke of Buckingham’.There were reports elsewhere that she had attended the duel disguised as the Duke’s page but whether these rumours (or the ones about what happened in that bloodstained shirt afterwards) are true, we’ll never know.  Also at Ingestre is a portrait of the Shrewsbury’s younger son, John Talbot, who in a twist of fate was also killed in a duel, sometime around his 21st birthday in February 1686.  This cause this time was not infidelity but, ‘having given the Duke of Grafton very unhandsome and provoking language’.

The grand staircase aka The Blue Staircase. By Jason Kirkham

The grand staircase aka The Blue Staircase. By Jason Kirkham

As far as I can see, there is no portrait of Francis Talbot. Perhaps it was destroyed in the devastating fire which swept through the hall on the night of 12th October 1882.  Unfortunately, no inventory was taken until afterwards. A contemporary account tells us that, “Some valuable paintings…were saved”, but that “The grand historical paintings on the staircase, however, were all destroyed”.

Hanging on the staircase in the place of these lost paintings are portraits which reflect a chapter in the history of the hall’s present owners, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. There are paintings of the Earl of Dartmouth, and Alderman Reuben Farley who persuaded him to lease part of his estate for a nominal rent of £1 in order that a park could be established for the people of West Bromwich. Under Sandwell Council’s ownership, the hall is used mainly as a residential arts centre, although it can also be hired out for weddings. I’m sure that dreams of having a photograph taken on the grand blue staircase in a nice white frock have influenced many a prospective bride’s decision in choosing Ingestre as the setting for their big day.

Blue Staircase with portrait of Alderman Reuben Fairley JP

Blue Staircase with portrait of Alderman Reuben Fairley JP. By Jason Kirkham

Impressive as the grand staircase is, it was the nearby secret staircase hidden behind a wall which captured my imagination. Leading to what was easily the shabbiest of all the rooms we saw, it would be quite easy to believe that no-one else had stepped inside here since 1961.

Inside the not-so-secret waiting room

Inside the not-so-secret waiting room. By Jason Kirkham

It’s thought the room may have been used by those waiting for a signal from the Pavilion to tell them that the coast was clear for illicit night time activities of some description to commence.  If only those carved Talbot dogs could talk…

One of the many Talbot dogs at Ingestre

One of the many Talbot dogs at Ingestre. By Jason Kirkham

Bookcase Ingestre

In the library. By Jason Kirkham

There’s yet another concealed door in the library, in a bookshelf full of pretend books. As Joss Musgrove Knibb from the Lichfield Gazette pointed out to me, even more shocking than this literary deception is that whoever was responsible didn’t even take the opportunity to include puns along the lines of, ‘Percy Vere, in 15 large volumes’ as they had done at Chatsworth. Seems the conclusion to be drawn from an afternoon at Ingestre is this – it’s the paintings and not the books which tell the stories here.

Notes: Thanks to Jason Kirkham of UK Urbex, who has very kindly let me use his photographs as I forgot my camera. And then couldn’t download the ones I took on my phone. (Let’s be honest, it’s probably worked out better that way)

Sources:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1423544/Nadine-Countess-of-Shrewsbury.html
http://www.altontowers.com/alton-towers-heritage/heritage/family/the-11th-earl-francis/ The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume 2
A Short History of Ingestre by Anne Andrews
Catalogue of Paintings – Ingestre Hall Residential Arts Centre
Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain by Edmund Lodge

Daisy, Daisy

Recently, I’ve spent more time in churches than ever before in my life (with the possible exception of the Summer of 2004, when I went to so many weddings that I was able to recite 1 Corinthians 13 off by heart). When I was younger, history for me was all about the castles. Churches were boring. The only remotely interesting thing about them was that, with their crenellations, some of them looked a bit like castles. Now I know that they can tell stories just as good as any castle, but you just need to know where to look.

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Before even stepping inside All Saints in Kings Bromley, there are plenty of interesting tales. ‘Lady Godiva’s’ cross in the churchyard, originally dates back to the 14th century, but was restored in 1897.

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I was delighted but intrigued to see a reference to one of my childhood heroines here. The story I knew as a little girl was that Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the taxes he imposed on the people of Coventry. Leofric tried calling her bluff by saying he would do so, if she rode through the marketplace in the buff. Unfortunately for him, his wife not only had compassion, but also really, really long hair which according to Roger of Wendover who first recorded the story, ‘covered the whole of her body like a veil’, as she climbed onto her horse and successfully carried out her legendary protest. The connection with Kings Bromley is that Godiva and Leofric had a summer residence or hunting lodge here, where Leofric died in 1057 and may well have been involved with an earlier church which could have stood on this site.

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Unlike others I’ve seen recently, I’m pleased to say the church itself hasn’t been fully restored by those pesky Victorians, but has a range of architectural styles and features dating back to at least the eleventh century, but possibly even earlier than that – the HER description says that this is an Anglo-Saxon wall, and somewhere within it there is possibly even a Romano-British brick. On a buttress near to this ancient wall is a medieval scratch dial which, with the assistance of the sun, would once have helped the priest be on time for mass. On the buttress in-between the porch and the sixteenth century tower there is another carving, but unlike the scratch dial, no-one is quite sure of its significance.

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The daisy wheel carving is described as a mason’s mark in the churches information sheet. Although this is the first I’ve seen, this symbol regularly crops up on old buildings, especially churches. Whilst some believe these carvings have a practical function, others believe they were carved for good luck or protection against evil spirits.

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On a bit of a tangent, on the subject of childhood and daisies and folklore, I did wonder about some of the little rituals surrounding these flowers that we unthinkingly carried out as kids. The name is thought to come from the old English ‘Daes Eage’ meaning ‘day’s eye’, and refers to the way the flower opens and closes with sunlight. I’ve read that wearing daisy chains was thought to protect you from being abducted by fairies (must work, I’m still here!) and that one of its folk names is ‘Measure of Love’, from the game where you pull off the petals one by one, chanting, ‘He loves me, he loves me not’. Apparently, there is another less risky version of this game in which you chant, ‘He loves me, he loves me lots’. If only someone had told me this at the time, I wouldn’t have had to cheat so much.

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Anyway, as it says in those half remembered lines from Corinthians, I’ve put away childish things. Well, most of them anyway….

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Sources

http://www.medievalgraffitisurrey.org/circles.html

All The World’s a Stage

Apparently, somewhere in the graveyard of what was once the church of St James in Pipe Ridware are the remains of a medieval cross. The churchyard is overgrown and the grass is long, but it’s not so much of a wilderness that you’d miss a 1.6metre high stone shaft. Except that I did and so now I’m kicking myself and planning a return visit of course. The churchyard cross, wherever it may be, would have been a communal memorial to those who have had their exits and are buried here.  Of the individual monuments here, the inscription on this one caught my eye.

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In January 1805, Joseph Alldritt died and his remains were ‘interr’d’ here with his ‘feet East from the Foot of this Stone’. I know that Christians are buried with their head west and feet east, but why was it felt necessary to point this out on the gravestone? Any ideas?

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The church itself was deemed surplus to requirements by the Church of England in 1983, and has been used as a theatre since July 1985. I’m hoping that the Ridware Theatre is still up and running, although it looks as though their website hasn’t been updated for a while. In 1842, the church was completely rebuilt by the Victorians (a phrase I am encountering frequently and beginning to dread) but one original feature that they did leave was an early Norman font, which can now be found at Hamstall Ridware church. There’a a drawing of it on Staffordshire Past Track here and there are also several drawings of the old church here too, which shows that it had a small bell turret and not many windows.

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There was a pub in the village until 1919 but apparently, its license wasn’t renewed after one of the punters threw a tankard at the bells, whilst a service was going on. Seems the residents of this little village pride themselves on creating a scene…

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An Old Wives’ Tale

Inside the south porch of St James the Great at Longdon, above the inner door which leads in to the rest of the church, there is a Norman archway. There’s a Green Man (more information on him and his mysterious origins here) here, carved onto one of the capitals, and below this is the ‘Bride’s Hand’, a rough carving of a hand, with a heart in its centre. According to the church’s visitor guide, the name relates to the old tradition that women arriving at the church to be wed would place their own hand on the carved one, in the hope that it would bring happiness and fertility to their marriage. Apparently, some Longdon brides still observe this custom.

Until I did some reading on the subject,  I had no idea how much the rite of marriage has changed over the centuries. I understand that until the Reformation, the majority of the wedding ceremony, including the exchanging of rings and vows, would take place here at the doors of the church and it seems it was only after the couple were husband and wife that they would enter the church, for a nuptial mass.

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The Bride’s Hand

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Inner door of south porch with Norman arch

 

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Green Man at Longdon

The Staffs Past Track site has a photograph of the ‘Bride’s Hand’ taken in 1950 and as well as mentioning the above custom, the caption also says that it is believed to be a talisman against the evil eye. Until a fortnight ago, I knew nothing of the symbolism that could be contained within a hand. In Hoar Cross, I came across a hand shaped door knocker, something I assumed meant nothing more than a quirky taste in door furniture. However, when Joss Musgrove Knibb, of the Lichfield Gazette, told me that a similar style of knocker was popular in the Mediterranean, I did more reading. I know that jumping to conclusions about ancient beliefs based on an hour of googling is not advisable. But I’m going to do it anyway.

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Door knocker at Hoar Cross

It seems that the symbol of a hand predates the three Abrahamic religions, but that it appears in all three. In Islam, it is the ‘Hamsa’, sometimes known as ‘the hand of Fatima’ and in Judaism it is known as ‘Hamesh’,or ‘the hand of Miriam’. Although the symbol seems less popular in Christianity, it is apparently known as ‘the Hand of Mary’.

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Madonna’s Head in between the arches of the Stonywell Chapel, inside the church

So, it seems this symbol is associated with women, and I’ve seen it mentioned a couple of times, although admittedly only on Wikipedia and a couple of other non-academic sites, that it has connections to fertility and pregnancy.  I’ve also read that an eye was sometimes added to the centre of the palm, to make its power to avert the evil even stronger. Here at Longdon, in place of an eye, we have a heart. Don’t we?

Of course, the hand at Longdon may ‘just’ be a bit of graffiti, that’s been adopted as a bit of superstition, but who carved it here at Longdon, and when and why? I’ve been to a fair few churches, and have never come across this before. The positioning and the known use of the hand as a protective symbol, does make you wonder….gives the concept of a ‘hand in marriage’ a whole new perspective!

Sources:

The Parish Church of St James the Great – A Guide for the Visitor

For Better, for Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present by John R. Gillis

http://voyseyandjones.wordpress.com/tag/fatima-hand-door-knocker/

http://israelity.com/tag/archeology/

 

 

Angel Delight

Inspired by Brownhills Bob’s love of the place and the inclusion of Holy Angels in Simon Jenkins’ list of England’s Thousand Best Churches, I finally visited Hoar Cross last weekend.

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As Nikolaus Pevsner says in his book on Staffordshire buildings,‘The story of Hoar Cross is well known enough’, but it bears repeating here. Work on the red brick, Jacobean style hall, now used as a spa resort, began in 1862, shortly before Hugo Meynell Ingram married Emily Charlotte Wood. The hall was completed in 1871, but in that same year Hugo was killed in a hunting accident. The widowed Emily employed George Frederick Bodley and his partner Thomas Garner to build a church in his memory, in the grounds of the home they had shared. Emily died in 1904, her remains interred near to those of her husband, whose body had been brought here from the parish church at Yoxall, after the dedication of Holy Angels in 1876. It’s said that Emily was never completely satisfied with her creation, but from what I’ve read it’s considered a masterpiece by all those who know their stuff architecturally. For what it’s worth, I think it’s beautiful too.

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If anyone wants to give me a lesson in how to take photos of windows & getting the light right I will be eternally grateful.

The contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgemans is acknowledge on thois tablet, decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

You wouldn’t be able to tell, because the photo is so bad, but this tablet acknowledges the contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgeman and is decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

However, as well as this story of love, loss and incredible architecture, I’m also interested in the earlier chapters in Hoar Cross’s history.  According to Horovitz’s Staffordshire place name study, the name of the village was first recorded in 1230 as ‘Horcros’ and is thought to refer to a grey cross or boundary cross. Whether this was a marker for the point where the four wards of Needwood Forest once met, or whether it indicated the extent of land owned by Burton Abbey in these parts, or whether something else entirely is a matter for ongoing speculation. Whatever its purpose, the cross that gave the place its name is long gone and now it is only the name that remains.

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There is another boundary marker on one of the grass verges in the village. It appears on a 1923 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘boundary stone’ and seems to mark a parish boundary – Hoar Cross sits between Yoxall and Newborough.

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I’d also like to know more about the original Hoar Cross Hall – the medieval moated house, known as the ‘Manor of the Cross’. According to Stebbing Shaw’s History of Staffordshire, the hall was destroyed in the 1700s and a farmhouse built on the site. According to the English Heritage Pastscape record, there is little in the form of maps or archaeology to back up this anecedotal evidence but the fact that there is an 18thc farmhouse known as Hoar Cross Old Hall suggests that Shaw was probably correct.

Meynell Ingram Arms

Despite not setting foot in the spa (not really my cup of herbal tea), my trip to Hoar Cross left my mind and spirit feeling indulged. Before leaving, I stopped off to indulge my body too, with a drink at the Meynell Ingrams Arms. Dating back to the seventeenth century, this former farm house became a coaching inn known as the Shoulder of Mutton. The name was changed in the 1860s, around the time of Emily and Hugo’s wedding, and the rebuilding of the Hall. Sadly, there was no sign of Basil, the horse who attracted media attention several years ago for actually walking into the bar and enjoying a pint of pedigree, but after a couple of hours at Hoar Cross, I had anything but a long face as I headed back to Lichfield.

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Sources:

http://www.eaststaffsbc.gov.uk/Planning/PlanningPolicy/LocalPlanEvidenceBase/Conservation%20Area%20Appraisals/Hoar%20Cross.pdf

Midlandspubs.co.uk
‘A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, LL. B http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/1557/2/397633_VOL2.pdf
Lichfield Mercury Archive

http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2014/04/art-for-lent-36-two-portraits-of-emily.html

Staffordshire (A Shell Guide) by Henry Thorold
The Buildings of England – Staffordshire by Nikolaus Pevsner