A Stone’s Throw Away

I recently read a great post about the map maker John Ogilby on Kate Shrewsday’s wonderful blog. In 1675, Mr Ogilby was the creator of the first ever British road atlas, and after reading Kate’s post, I took another look at the section of his map of the London to Chester road, as it passed over the Warwickshire border into Staffordshire and on through Lichfield. You can see the map here.

The majority of the place names are recognisable and in use today, albeit with some changes to the spelling –  Burowcop Hill, Cank Wood and Sutton Cofield amongst others.There are however a handful of names that appear to have been lost over the last three hundred or so years. One intriguing feature marked on the route is the ‘Bishop’s Heap of Stones’, eight miles or so from Lichfield, between Canwell Hall (or Sir Francis Lawley‘s Cannell Hall as it’s shown on the map) and Hints.

The name seems to refer to a literal heap of stones, and it seems there are at least two  possible explanations for why this pile of pebbles was associated with a bishop. Thomas Pennant, when writing about his journey from Chester to London, discovered a handwritten note in a copy of William Dugdale’s ‘Warwickshire’, added by Dugdale himself, which read as follows:

There is a common report (which passeth for currant amongst the vulgar) that the great heape of stones, which lyeth near the road way from Litchfeild towards Coleshill, upon Bassets heath, called the Bishops Stones, and those other lesser heapes, which lye in the valley below; were at first laid there in memorie of a bishop and his retinue, who were long since rob’d and killed, as they were travailing upon that way: but this is a meere fabulous storye: for upon an inquisition made in King James his time, concerning the extent of common upon that heath, betwixt Weeford and Sutton;there was an old woman, called old Bess of Blackbrooke, being then above an hundred yeares of age, who deposed (inter alia) that the Bishop of Exeter living then at Moore Hall: taking notice how troublesome such a number of pibble stones as then lay in the roade thereabouts, were to all passengers, caused them to be pickt up, and thus layd upon heapes

In 1769, in his book The History and Antiquities of Shenstone, in the County of Stafford, the Reverend Henry Sanders, gives a similar but more detailed explanation. Sanders says that a woman from Blackbrook came to the inquiry into the parish boundaries and testified that in the reign of Henry VIII, or just after, John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter had decided to become a benefactor to his birthplace of Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Vesey obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, revived the market and also built a number of stone houses (1) as part of an attempt to create an industry manufacturing Kersey, as they did in Devon. Bess (I’m assuming that she is ‘the woman from Blackbrook’ Sanders refers to), also told how when the Bishop was at Sutton he was annoyed by the rolling pebbles on the road which caused travellers’ horses to stumble and sometimes fall and so he employed poor people to gather them and lay them in heaps. Sanders describes the position of these heaps as follows:

On the hollow way between Weeford Hills or rather between Swynfen and Canwell lie divers heaps and one great one at the top of the hill at Weeford park corner which according to the tradition of the country people were placed there in memory of a bishop of Lichfield who riding with many attendants was slain with those servants by robbers and that these heaps were where the bodies were found which agreeable to this account and to honest and accurate antiquaries is entirely fabulous

I also think these stories are fabulous, but I suspect not quite in the way that the Reverend meant! It seems the tale of the murdered bishop didn’t ever hold much weight, but what about the version given by the local centenarian (who sounds like a legend in her own right!)? Were the stones gathered by the poor at the request of a Bishop or did they serve another purpose?  It’s interesting that there may have been more than one heap. Piles of stones are of course found across the world, and have many meanings and significances. I suspect that the Bishop’s heaps of stones will have been swept away, perhaps gradually scattered back onto the roads from where they came. It’s interesting to think that even a humble pebble beneath your feet may once have been part of a much bigger story.

Notes:

1 You can see one of the stone houses built by Vesey here

2 Kersey was a coarse cloth, often used to make servants clothing, and although it takes its name from the village in Suffolk, I understand that in Vesey’s time it was Devon that was at the centre of the Kersey industry in England.

 

ExpLore – Lanes Around Leomansley

Walking is such a pleasure. I get seriously itchy feet if deprived for more than a day or so, and my spirits are always lifted after a good old trudge around. Exploring somewhere for the first time is fantastic, but I also love to walk around the places I know. It somehow gives me feel warm and comfortable feeling, like a favourite old cardigan. And of course, sometimes there can be surprises up even the most familiar sleeve…

I’ve decided I’d like to try and put some walks here so that people can get out and explore for themselves.  One of my best loved walks is of course around Leomansley, so here’s a walk around the lanes that I hope you’ll enjoy doing for yourself. Naturally,  I always encourage straying from the path to investigate something that looks interesting. Getting lost is part of the fun!

Lanes Around Leomansley

The map below gives a rough idea of the route, which is about 2km (depending on how many diversions you take!). I’ve marked some of the points that I think are of interest but of course there may be other things…….Below the map is a PDF with a written version of the route, giving information about each of the points. Hope you enjoy it, I’d like to hear how you get on!

Lanes Around Leomansley walk

 

Stumped

I had an email from Pat telling me there was a lump on the side of the A51, near to the junction with Abnalls Lane.  I assumed that it was an old tree stump, but Pat thinks it might be something more than that, and recalls seeing some stone there last year.

I went and had a closer look. Pat said in his comment on the Cross City post, the lump is covered in vegetation, but there is likely to be something solid underneath, as the grass is cut around it. I took a few photos and then the self -conciousness of being stood on a busy A-road taking photos of a grassy lump got the better of me and I headed back up Abnalls Lane.

So, does anyone else know anything about this, or do we just have to wait until the grass dies away in the Autumn to get a better look?!

In the meantime, it’s worth taking a trip up Abnalls Lane. In parts, it’s thought to be a holloway, and at times you’re surrounded by hedgerows, tree roots and sandstone, with carved names and dripping water.  It takes you past the site of one of Lichfield’s Scheduled Ancient Monuments – a moated site on the edge of Pipe Green and over the border into Burntwood.  It also passes nearby the site of Erasmus Darwin’s botanical garden, although unfortunately the site is not open to the public.

Spires of Lichfield from moated site at Abnalls Lane on the Lichfield/Burntwood Boundary

Interestingly, a section on Burntwood in the History of the County of  Stafford says that,

The road, now Abnalls Lane, was known as Pipe Lane at least between 1464 and 1683.  The point where it goes over the boundary was described in 1597 as ‘the place where the broken cross in Pipe Lane stood’; a ditch at Broken Cross was mentioned in 1467.

Is this one of the crosses already counted in Cross City, or a different one? 

Also, on the subject of research into stone things, at the end of Abnalls Lane, there are some interesting names – The Roche and Hobstonehill (according to the History of the County of Stafford, the placename ‘Hobbestone’ was mentioned in 1392).   

I think I need to spend my summer holidays at Lichfield Record Office.

Sources:

‘Townships: Burntwood’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 195-205. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42356  Date accessed: 27 July 2012.

 

Hollow within a holloway

Like its neighbour Abnalls Lane, Cross in Hand Lane is (at least in parts) a holloway. As mentioned before, Cross in Hand used to be the main road to Stafford. I understand from reading information on the Two Saints Way project that it would also would have been one of the last stages of the pilgrimage route between Chester and Lichfield. According to Thomas Harwood it was also where the Sheriff’s Ride (the next one coming up soon on 10th September) used to begin and finish. So, that’s what I do know.

Now for what I don’t know…..

This ‘cave’ can be found by walking about 200m up Cross in Hand Lane from the A51. It’s on the right hand side, opposite a lovely white cottage.  I first read about it in Cuthbert Brown’s Lichfield Remembered, but he doesn’t know what it is either! Is it somewhere stone has been extracted from? A natural feature? Anyone have any ideas?

Edit 25 minutes later!
It is natural. Brownhills Bob tells me via Twitter that it is a water fissure where softer rock has been washed out. So thank you to him, mystery solved :)