On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

11894032_818906104889274_1449376816726442835_o

King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

Not All About that Bass

Last Sunday, I had an appointment at Burton upon Trent and wanted to make an afternoon of it. However, it seemed unfair on my designated driver to make him explore the town’s famous brewing industry without being able to sample a drop of ale and so I thought we’d base our trip on water instead, and whilst doing a bit of research for this, I found a great story about air.

Winshill tower

Winshill Water Tower, also known as Waterloo Tower as it stands in front of woodland planted in 1815 to commemorate the battle, was built by the South Staffordshire Water Company in 1907 to improve water pressure in the area. Since the 1990s, the 50,000 gallon capacity tank has been empty and the tower’s only practical purpose has been to host communications aerials and masts on its summit. It’s a much loved Burton landmark though, supposedly visible from wherever you are in the town. (1)

Winshill water tower

During Burton Aviation week, held from 26th September to 1st October 1910, flags were flown from the tower to signal to the crowds gathered on on Bass Meadows (1) whether flights had been suspended due to wind or whether another flight was imminent. An advertising poster for the event announcing that Helene Dutrieu (2) would be one of the seven fliers and carrying passengers can be seen here.

Helene Dutrieu (image from wikipedia)

Helene Dutrieu, pioneering aviator and much, much more. Image from Wikipedia

Due to high winds, nothing much happened on the first day of the show. On day two however, things got very exciting, and not just for people gathered on Bass Meadows. News had reached Lichfield that some of the pilots would be flying around the Cathedral in an attempt to win a cup given by the Marquis of Anglesey for the fastest round trip. Large crowds assembled around Minster and Stowe Pools, in the Cathedral Close (it was even reported that there were people up the central spire) and on the Burton Road. At quarter past five in the afternoon, Julien Mamet whirred into sight on his Bleuriot plane, swept around the north side of the Cathedral, flew south over Christ Church and the Bowling Green and headed back for Burton where he arrived at fourteen minutes later. There was a lot of cheering and waving of hats and hankies (what would we wave nowadays? Nothing probably, we’d be too busy trying to record it on our phones). An hour later, a shout went up as another Bleuriot, this time piloted by Paul de Lesseps, was spotted. The Mercury reports that although De Lesseps lost his bearings by following the wrong train line somewhere around Wychnor Junction, he managed to find them again, approaching the city from the South and flying parallel to Bird Street above the heads of the crowd.

By this time it was dusk and De Lesseps, deciding he would be unable to reach Burton before dark, landed his aircraft in a field belonging to Grange Farm on Wheel Lane, clipping the tail on a fence (it was later reported that De Lesseps had only narrowly missed the roof of the farmhouse). As darkness fell back at Bass Meadow, the mood changed from excitement to concern. Mamet had flown up to meet his rival, but saw no sign of him.  As spectators lit bonfires, flares and lamps in the hope they would guide De Lesseps safely back to Burton, a search party set off in the direction of Lichfield. Eventually, they found De Lesseps in the field, signing scraps of paper for a crowd of autograph hunters by matchlight. The damaged plane was taken charge of by the police, and De Lesseps was taken to the George Hotel, where he informed a crowd gathered at the steps that he hoped to fly back to Burton at four the following afternoon, once he had made the necessary repairs.

Well, that was the plan anyway. Flying back to Burton, however, in an attempt to break the record for flying at high altitude, De Lesseps missed the town altogether.  There was another anxious wait for the crowd who had seen De Lesseps flying over at a great height before disappearing in the direction of Derby. Eventually, a message was received that he had landed safely at Colwick Hall near Nottingham.

De Lesseps’ return journey to Burton had was also not without drama. As he flew over Meadow Lane, where Notts County were playing Bristol City, he caused such a sensation that the match had to be stopped for a for a few minutes as the crowd, players and officials gazed upwards.  Unfortunately, the referee, a Reverend Marsh, forgot to adjust his watch, blew his whistle four minutes too early and had to call the players, some of whom had already started to get changed, back out out of the dressing rooms to finish the match. As if this wasn’t a memorable enough occasion already, it was apparently also The Magpies’ first victory at their new ground (where’s this guy when you need him?).

Aerial view of Meadow Lane (and City Ground. I did not realise how close they were!) Wonder how much has changed since De Lesseps saw it from a similar perspective?

Aerial view of Meadow Lane (and City Ground. I did not realise how close they were!) Wonder how much has changed since De Lesseps saw it from a similar perspective?

Mamet may have taken the prize for the out and home Burton to Lichfield flight, but De Lesseps definitely stole the show.

Notes

(1) On my next trip, I plan to take the bus and check whether it is really visible from everywhere, including several beer gardens.

(2) Bass Meadows was an area of land owned by the brewing company and used to provide sports facilities for their employees.

(3) Helene Dutrieu was a racing and stunt cyclist, a racing car driver and a pioneering aviator. During the First World War, Dutrieu became an ambulance driver and director of a military hospital and later become a journalist. More about her incredible life here.

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk

 

Bike Lock

On Wednesday, Christine from the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust and I set off on a joint expedition to explore the remains of the stretch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal between the Fosseway Level Crossing and Sandfields Pumping Station.

Canal rocks

As we crossed through the gate off Falkland Road, the canal, or what once was the canal, was to our left. Down a steep slope to our right however, was a wide expanse of land filled with curious humps, bumps and scars. At the far end was a pile of stones, which Christine thought had come from the canal (it seems they were moved when the new road was built).  As we mused on the origins of the mysterious earthworks, I was reminded that someone had told me that this was once the place where the youth of Lichfield would come to ride their bicycles, both the pedal and motor varieties. Later, I popped the photos of this section on our Lichfield Discovered page on Facebook asking whether anyone else remembered this.  Steve Martin did and he sent this brilliant reply:

Used to take my bike down there some 30 odd years ago when, if I recall correctly, there was a lot less grass there. It was about a fifteen minute ride to get there from where I used to live but was well worth it because that area was a playground for bikes as there were well defined tracks , bumps and jumps in the area between the train track and the old canal. There were often youths there, some on motorbikes, riding around and jumping their bikes . . . I do remember being the only person there one day and coming off my bike on a track near the top of the embankment and having a rather spectacular kid/bike roll to the bottom.

 

The youth of today may have moved on to the skatepark or the nearby MUGA or, let’s be honest, moved in to play on the Xbox but previous generations have left their mark on the landscape here. And no doubt the landscape made a mark on a few of them too, eh Steve? It’s something you won’t find on a map but it’s a great bit of social history that I’d love to hear more about.

Who got else got their teenage kickstarts here?

Who got else got their teenage kickstarts here?

Bricks kickstart

Foundations?

I’m not sure that all of the earthworks here are related to what appears to have been Lichfield’s own version of Junior Kickstart (you’ll be humming that theme tune the whole day). The old maps suggest there was a lock on the canal here which might explain the presence of bricks. Christine and I continued along the wildly overgrown towpath, to where the remains of a lock are far more evident. It was a gorgeous walk – the sun shone, birds sang and butterflies flitted (although I did ruin things a bit by planting the thought in our heads that the vegetation above our heads might contain giant hogweed. It didn’t).

Christine on our lock crusade

Christine Howles and the Lock Crusade

If anyone can ID those purple flowers would be grateful!

If anyone can ID those purple flowers we would be grateful!

Lock ladder

We clambered back down the bank to stand in what would have been the canal, and walked in through the lock. We were surprised at how modern some of the brickwork looked, and the ladder certainly appeared to be a fairly recent addition. We later found out renovation work had been carried out on this stretch not all that long ago (which also explains the solitary picnic bench we found). Adventurous though we are, climbing out using the ladder was a step too far and so we clambered back up the bank and carried on along the towpath. At the end of this stretch there is a canal cottage with a lovely BCN boundary stone in the front garden. Due to dog related issues, I didn’t take a photo so you will have to go and see it with your own eyes.  If boundary stones don’t excite you as much as they do me, perhaps the old Fosseway crossing signal box and opportunity to trespass on the disused railway track which runs adjacent to the canal from Sandfields up to Pipe Hill wharf will float your boat instead.

Fosseway crossing

Trespass on railway

I’ve not gone into the history of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal in any depth here for the simple reason that it’s been done far better elsewhere. Your first port of call is of course the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration website, where you can discover not only the history of the waterway but also their plans for its future.  Of course if you’d like to do something constructive to help, literally, they are always looking for volunteers! You can get in touch and keep up to date with what’s going on Twitter @lhcrt1 or on Facebook.

Sandfields at dusk

Sandfields at dusk

Back at the opposite end of this stretch, the canal flowed past Sandfields Pumping Station before crossing the Chesterfield Road, and flowing under the Birmingham Road (where you can still see one of the bridges by the Duke of Wellington!). For us on this occasion though, Sandfields was the end of the line. Again, the history of this Grade II* listed building has been captured in detail elsewhere, by friend and colleague David Moore. You can discover why Sandfields is such an important part of not only Lichfield’s past but also that of the Black Country’s here on the Lichfield Waterworks Trust site. Put simply, by supplying fresh water to our neighbouring towns, Sandfields saved lives and now the Trust are trying to save Sandfields for the community. It’s a building we should be singing the praises of at least as much as the Cathedral. If you think you might like to add your voice, please come along to the Lichfield Waterworks Trust monthly meeting next week (details here) or we have a drop-in session at the Beacon Park discovery hub tomorrow, Saturday 25th July, between 11am and 12pm, where you can find out more about Sandfields and the Trust’s work. I’ll be flying the Lichfield Discovered flag there too, so if social and sociable history is your thing, come down and say hello!

Finally, thanks to Christine for sharing the adventure and thanks to Steve for sharing the memories and the photos.

Moon above the lock 2012-ish. Taken by Steve Martin

Moon above the lock 2012-ish. Taken by Steve Martin

Up Letocetum

Wall, located just two miles to the south of Lichfield, is an incredible place to visit at anytime of the year. This Sunday (19th July) however, the Friends of Letocetum will be bringing the remains of the Roman settlement here to life with their annual open day, held in conjunction with English Heritage and the National Trust.  Entrance is free and the event runs from 11am to 4pm, during which time you’ll be able to experience life as a Roman soldier, get creative with a Roman artist and explore what everyday life would have been like at Letocetum.  A group of Saxons are also setting up an encampment at the site and for literature fans there will be a Saxon book binder and storyteller.  Children can take part in a range of games and activities* and there will also be a stall selling Roman games, perfumes and beads.

Wall-Open-Day-

Roman style bootcamp at last year’s open day

John Crowe, chair of the Friends group and Wall Parish Council said, “Last year we welcomed over twelve hundred visitors. The whole village comes together each year for our annual open day, and we want people to come along and have fun, whilst learning more about the significance of this major Roman settlement, situated at the crossroads of two of the most important roads at the centre of Roman Britain. The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered just one mile to the west of the village, and other finds from the local area suggest that Christianity may have been established at Letocetum prior to St Chad’s arrival in Lichfield”.

Stone on display at Wall museum, featuring two carved heads and what's thought to be a shield.

This stone, one of several found built into one of the walls at Wall, is just one of the many fascinating artefacts on display at the museum. It is thought to be Romano-British and features two carved heads with horns and what has been interpreted as a shield.

“The church of St John, built in 1837 and designed by William Moffatt and George Gilbert Scott, will be open to visitors, and refreshments will be available in the village hall. There will also be volunteers on hand in the museum to talk visitors through the fascinating collection of artefacts discovered at the site, so please do come and join us for what will be an enjoyable and informative day”.

Life at Letocetum...se if you can spot the two thousand year old (ish!) paw print somewhere on the site...

Life at Letocetum…see if you can spot the two thousand year old (ish!) paw print somewhere on the site…

*there is a small charge for these activities to cover costs

Midnight on the Hill

borrowcop

“My point of view”

Borrowcop Hill is a place that doesn’t want to give up its secrets easily. What interests me about places like this is how gaps in our knowledge create a space where legends and folklore can grow unchecked. It’s not just a hill with a nice view. It’s the burial place of kings and martyrs, the site of Lichfield Castle.

to borrowcop gazebo

“The path you take…”

Stand at the summit and you’re standing at the highest point in Lichfield. Beacons have been lit here certainly for celebrations, possibly as warnings. The grammar school moved here from St John Street in 1903 and in 1971, merged with the adjacent Kings Hill secondary modern school to form the current King Edward VI School.  Interesting how the folklore was even referenced in the school name here. Another school on the site, the just as evocatively named Saxon Hill, was opened in 1979.

borrowcop sign

“Pick and choose, from a folklore”

Christmas 1940

“Something about poetry “

At last year’s Lichfield Discovered talk by Peter Young on Philip Larkin’s connections to the city, he told us that that whilst staying with relatives at Cherry Orchard in 1940, Larkin had written three poems. Only one, ‘Out in the Lane’, was published but all three were inspired by his temporary surroundings. Peter believes the arched field of ’Christmas 1940′ refers to Borrowcop Hill. I’ve reproduced it here from a folio collated by The Philip Larkin Society for their celebration of his birthday in August 2001. I hope they don’t mind, but I can’t find it anywhere else! The name ‘Borrowcop’ does hint that there was once something here. Its earliest written forms, Burwey or Burwhay, feature the Old English element ‘burh’,  suggesting a fortified place (1).  Whilst there are vague reports of Erasmus Darwin recovering bits of burnt bone from somewhere up here, according to the Heritage Environment Report, ‘more recent excavations have so far failed to recover any evidence for human activity’. Well, I went up there on Sunday and I found this:

borrowcop chair

“Sitting by the monument, just waiting…”

And this:

"The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes"

“The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes”

And this:

borrowcop graffiti

“I’ll do graffiti if you sing to me….”

Plenty of human activity in what Five Spires Live , the Lichfield satirist who also doesn’t give up his secrets easily, yesterday described as  ”… the perfect setting for bit of Larkin”. See, as much as I like legends, I also like the real.  I like layers of history that celebrate everything a place is and not just what we want it to be. The way our own memories of a place form our own folklores. The title for this post is one I’ve appropriated from one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands. It’s summer nights, it’s cheap cider (or ‘energy and guava’, if you’d rather), it’s messing about with your mates in a space maintained by the council because you’ve nowhere else to go. It’s perfect. Borrowcop or not, we’ve all been there. And like it or not, that’s as much a part of history as those kings and castles are.

1) A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/11557/1/397633_VOL1.pdf

Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

Blood and Water

Last Saturday, our Lichfield Discovered group visited Sinai Park near Burton upon Trent, which has been described along the lines of, ‘the most important house in England to be in such a state’. One wing of the timber framed house has been restored beautifully by owner Kate Newton, using the skills of local craftspeople. The other two wings are still awaiting their salvation. You might expect it to have been fire which wreaked havoc here but in fact the rapid decline of Sinai was caused by water.

Sinai Park

By the 1960s, Sinai had been converted to six cottages but, when the water supply was found to be contaminated, they were deemed unfit for human habitation. The owner, unsure what to do with this white elephant in the middle of his land, moved his pigs and chickens in. Anything that could be sold was – for example, wooden panelling went to the USA and the Tudor front door ended up at the Stanhope Arms in Bretby. I was just planning a visit in my head when Kate told us it had since been sold on again and she was still trying to track down its whereabouts to see if she could bring it home.

Painted beams in the restored wing at Sinai

Painted original beams in the restored wing at Sinai

That perhaps explains the ‘in such a state’ element of the description, but what about the ‘most important house in England’ part?  The hilltop location with water supplied by a chalybeate spring, suggests the potential for much earlier occupation of the site. However, the first hard evidence we have of habitation here are the remains of a fortified manor house in the form of the thirteenth century moat surrounding the property and stonework in the cellars below. Sinai was donated to the monks of Burton Abbey by the Schobenhale family, and was used as a ‘seyney house’ i.e. a place to restore their strength after blood letting sessions and during periods of illness. Hence the name and its importance. According to English Heritage, ‘only a handful of similar monastic retreats or ‘Seyney Houses’ have been identified nationally’. That Sinai has surviving buildings dating to this period of its use  is described as ‘unique’.

The three wings are structurally independent of each other and it’s believed that the monks brought two medieval timber framed buildings here from Burton, and rebuilt them parallel to each other to use as dormitories. After the reformation, Sinai was given to the Paget family who at times used it as a hunting lodge. In 1606, they erected a medieval style great hall to link these two wings and to impress their mates.  Sinai remained in the family for around four hundred years until it was sold to pay off some of the debts run up by Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey (and did he run up some debts!).

The property was bought in June 1918 by the Burton and District Co-Op Society and at the time the ‘Great Hall’, ‘Confessional’, ‘Solar’, and ‘Chaplain’s Room’ were apparently still in evidence. A photograph of the hall from ten years earlier can be found here on the Staffs Pasttrack site, and there’s one from the Victoria County History of Staffordshire, taken in the 1980s here, which shows just how much damage decades of neglect can do.

Georgian Plunge Pool over chalybeate spring known as 'The Lord's Well'

Georgian Plunge Pool over chalybeate spring known as ‘The Lord’s Well’

Back to the water, and in the grounds is a Georgian plunge pool, built over the chalybeate spring known as the Lord’s Well. There’s a great post about this on the Holy Wells and Sacred Springs site which you can read here. The Georgian bridge over the moat was built in 1732 and is thought to have replaced a timber bridge, where it’s said a skirmish between the Pagets and the Bagots of Blithfield took place during the Civil War, leaving musket balls lodged in some of the house’s beams. This leads nicely into some of the other stories and legends of Sinai. For anyone who isn’t interested in this part, please tut and move on to the next paragraph. For those who are, a tunnel is said to lead from the cellars here to Burton Abbey and there are around fifty ghost stories, some of which you can read about here.

Georgian Bridge over thirteenth century moat

Eighteenth century bridge over thirteenth century moat

On behalf of Lichfield Discovered, I’m really grateful to Kate for her hospitality and for sharing all of the stories of Sinai with us and wish her all the best with the restoration project. Let’s hope that one day it will be known simply as ‘one of the most important houses in England’, without the ‘in such a state’ epithet. To keep up to date on developments at Sinai Park and to arrange visits, please visit the Sinai Park House website.

To get involved with Lichfield Discovered, you can follow us on Twitter (@lichdiscovered) or like us on Facebook here.

Jacobean 'Great Hall' at Sinai

Jacobean ‘Great Hall’ at Sinai

Sinai Restored wing

The restoration of the north east wing at Sinai was completed in 2000.

Landscape Gardening

I’m still not sure whether I live in Leomansley or Leamonsley but what I do know is that this area of Lichfield grew up around a fulling mill opened on Leomansley brook in the late eighteenth century, somewhere around where Leomansley Manor now stands. In the 1830/40s, a row of cottages, once home to many of the mill’s workers, was built along what was then the Walsall Road and the area has continued to develop since then.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream. Hard to believe this once stood alongside the brook in the woods. The mill may be long gone, but traces of the mill pond can still be seen.

Victorian terraced houses, 1930s semis, new build apartments on the site of the former Carpenter’s Arms pub (boo!), a former lodge at what was once an entrance to the demolished Beacon Place, vicarages old and new, post first world war council houses, a 1960s community hall and housing estate and a much extended Edwardian school – to walk around Leomansley is to take a trip through the story of domestic architecture during the last two hundred years.

christ-church-gardens

There’s also a rather lovely Victorian gothic revival church too, and on the weekend of 4th and 5th July 2015, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area.  Organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories which they’ve used to produce a guide which will tell you not only about the history of the twelve houses opening up their gardens but also the story of Leomansley’s development from an area of common pasture on the western boundary of Lichfield, to the place it is today.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Admission to the gardens is between 2pm and 6pm on both days, and programs will be available from Christ Church itself, plus any of the participating gardens, at £4 each. There will be refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane, and there will also be plant stalls, for anyone feeling inspired by what they’ve seen. I know I’m biased but Leomansley is as lovely as it is interesting, and I hope that people from not just the immediate area, but also from far-flung and distant places like Boley Park come along and find out more about our bit of Lichfield.

 

Social History

This Tuesday (2nd June) at 7.30pm in the Duke of York, Lichfield Discovered is holding the first of its new monthly meet-ups. The idea is that people can come along to the pub on the first Tuesday of every month and get involved in planning our events, share ideas and, of course, discuss any interesting snippets of history they’ve come across, or would like to know more about, over a drink. We know people have busy lives and lots of other commitments and so it’s important to stress that there is no obligation to come every month, just as and when you’re able to (or want to!). We’d rather see people once in a blue moon than not at all. Lichfield discovered Alongside these monthly meet-ups we will of course continue to do walks, talks and other events. If you don’t want your involvement with Lichfield Discovered to be anything more than coming along and joining us for these, then that’s great, and we shall welcome you with open arms and custard creams, and ask nothing more of you.

If, however, you’ve got ideas about what we could or should be doing, or where we should be going, or if you’ve got any skills or knowledge that you think we could make use of, then please do come along and join us at the pub.  Even if it’s just to register a preference for chocolate hobnobs over custard creams.

Whilst on the subject of Lichfield Discovered, I’d also like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to the Trustees and residents of Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street for making us so welcome on our visit this weekend. It was fantastic to see inside one of Lichfield’s oldest and most distinctive buildings and learn not only about its past, but also about the great work that this small charity is doing in the city in the present. If you missed out, then I understand Dr Milley’s will be opening for the heritage weekend in September. Along with our good friends at the Lichfield Waterworks Trust, we also have plans for that weekend, but more on that another time….

As ever, apart from at the pub, the best places to find Lichfield Discovered are on Facebook and on Twitter (@lichdiscovered).

The Words and the Bees

I had an hour to kill down in Lichfield and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never looked to see if there was any graffiti, medieval or otherwise, on or in Lichfield Cathedral.

Cathedral graffiti 2 Cathedral graffiti

cathedral graffiti 3

The exterior of the south door turned out to be a rich source of names and initials, some dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. Nearby there’s a daisy wheel, a compass drawn symbol which appears in churches, but also in secular buildings, all over the country. There’s a lovely and much clearer example up the road at All Saints Church in Kings Bromley. Although some believe daisy wheels were used by masons for practical purposes, the general consensus is that most of them were intended to be ritual protection marks. Our Lichfield Cathedral example is faint, and as you can see, barely visible on the photograph. Far better to go and take a look yourself (and try to spot some more graffiti whilst you are there of course!).

Daisy wheel Lichfield cathedral

As well as being a graffiti magnet, the Cathedral also seems to attract bees. I remember last year, Denise Peters took a photo of a swarm of honey bees in The Close for day sixty one of our one hundred days in Lichfield project and there was of course the masonry bees eating the Cathedral drama of 2008. I am assured that the two dozen or so I saw this afternoon are of the honey rather than masonry variety.  Perhaps they were there looking for daisies too?

11136760_773838116062740_609131108760301808_n