Bones of Contention

Last week, together with other members of the Lichfield Discovered group, I enjoyed a Gruesome and Ghostly tour around the city lead by one of Lichfield’s Green Badge Guides. Some tales were familiar (although it’s always fascinating to hear someone else’s version of a story you know), others were complete revelations. I was particularly intrigued by the story of an ancient adult male skeleton, apparently discovered with the remains of a tiny baby in his arms when an access road was being built behind Bakers Lane. (1) Obviously when listening to stories in these circumstances, you’re never quite sure where truth ends and anecdote, myth and legend creep in, and I was interested to know whether there was any substance to this story. As of yet I haven’t been able to find anything on this particularly, but as you might expect, searching for skeletons in Lichfield turns up all sorts of intriguing information….

In 1925, the Tamworth Herald got very excited when it heard that workers digging a trench in the grounds of St John’s Hospital in Lichfield had discovered human remains, announcing that the skeletons discovered were ‘probably over 700 years old’ and that they may be ‘priors and their bretheren’. The Rev John Ernest Auden, chaplain at the hospital, wrote to the Lichfield Mercury to set the record straight – yes, ten bodies had been discovered but it was unlikely that they were seven hundred years old, or even half that. It was also unlikely that they were priors as such burials were usually discovered alongside an article of their service, often a chalice and patten, as had been discovered in 1917 at the former leper’s hospital at Freeford (2).  It was much more likely that they were old residents of the hospital. Archaeological evidence in the form of tiles and pottery found alongside the bodies suggested that they had been there for around two hundred years. Rev Auden also recalled how, when he was curate of St Mary’s in 1886 to 1889, he could remember funerals taking place at St Johns and several older people he had known, including former resident of the hospital Henry Cartmale and City Coroner Charles Simpson, could recollect burials taking place in the grounds. Rev Auden also pointed out that there were three fairly modern gravestones under the Yew Tree supporting this.

Part of the courtyard at St John’s Hospital

Apparently one woman had protested at ‘the hideous sacrilege and desecration in using ground solemnly consecrated and dedicated as God’s acre for ever, for a bed for sewers’, and so Rev Auden took the opportunity to reassure her, and anyone else that was concerned about the work that was being carried out, that the bones had been collected and reburied together and that the Hospital Quadrangle would soon resume its peaceful aspect, plus the manholes.

Although they did make assumptions in this particular instance, to be fair to the Tamworth Herald, evidence for much older burials, in and around the hospital, was discovered in 1967, when according to the County History, a medieval burial was found during alterations to the almshouses. In June last year, Annette Rubery and local newspapers reported that further remains were found just one metre below the pavement outside the hospital, when workers were repairing a gas pipe, although I don’t think the date of this burial was ever confirmed?

In another post, I’ll look at ‘Councillor Moseley’s Graveyard’, the nickname given to the site of the Friary after Thomas Moseley secured permission to excavate the site in the 1930s, uncovering several skeletons and other archaeological remains, and also the area in and around Lichfield’s Cathedral Close, where amongst other discoveries, a very unusual burial was reportedly found within the walls of one of the buildings in the early eighteenth century. They don’t call this the Field of the Dead for nothing you know (4).

Notes:

(1) One of the reasons I find this particularly interesting is that it seems unusual that it’s a male skeleton with a young child. Over in St Michael’s churchyard, the remains of an adult with a child were discovered, but this was thought to be a mother who had died in childbirth (and was of course in consecrated ground). For more information on that see here. Also, it makes you think about past uses of land and what discoveries like this can tell us. Edit: I’ve just re-read the report and the actual wording is ‘an adult and tiny baby found buried together…it is possible they represent a mother and child who died at childbirth’, so I should make it clear.

(2) For more information on the human remains discovered at Freeford, and thought to be related to the fomer lepers hospital there, see here

(3) Mr Charles Simpson b. April 9th 1800. Solicitor, Town Clerk and Coroner for the City of Lichfield, and Clerk of the Peace for Staffordshire 1825.  d. April 22nd 1890Details from the Shrewsbury School Register 1734 – 1908, edited by….Rev J E Auden!

(4) As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Lichfield doesn’t really mean Field of the Dead, it’s just an old myth that’s most likely stuck because it’s more evocative than the real meaning of the the name which is thought to be something like ‘common pasture in or beside the grey wood’. For more on the place name and yet more Lichfield bones see here 

Sources:

:Lichfield Mercury Archive

Tamworth Herald Archive

www.annetterubery.co.uk

Hospitals: Lichfield, St John the Baptist’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3(1970), pp. 279-289

Shrewsbury School Register 1734 – 1908, edited by Rev J E Auden

Perspexive

This morning, I went to the dentist. On the way home I walked past St John’s Hospital. With the sun shining, I decided to pop in and allow myself a minute to take in the lovely surroundings and the calm atmosphere of the courtyard, before heading home.

At least that was my intention. As hospitable as ever, someone in the courtyard came over to welcome me, and invited me to have a look around the chapel. Never one to miss an opportunity to be nosey, I accepted with thanks.

I have been inside once before, but that visit was dominated by standing in front of John Piper’s striking window for the first time. Today, I sat on a back pew and found myself next to a perspex window. A small sticker told me that the stonework behind the perspex was the remains of a Norman water stoup. I understand that this would once have held holy water, into which those entering the chapel could dip their fingers, and make the sign of the cross. Apparently, many stoups were destroyed during the reformation but whether this is the case here I don’t know.  As the chapel has been heavily restored and altered over the centuries, I was delighted to have this chance encounter with part of the older fabric of the chapel.   Unfortunately, as I hadn’t anticipated there being many photo opportunities on a trip to the dentists, I had no camera. But the chapel is open everyday until 5pm, so if you can, please do go and take a look yourself, and enjoy visiting the grounds at the same time.

This got me thinking about the idea of layers of history within buildings, where generations of people have made their mark, by accident or by design, for better or for worse.  When I was volunteering at the Guildhall, someone told me I could get out using the back door. It was news to me that there was a back door but once through it, I made the even more exciting  discovery that  traces of the older building were still in evidence. For example, whilst the main hall and the front of the Guildhall date to the mid 1800s, the blocked window on the photograph below is thought to date to the 16thc.

Brickwork from different periods, round the back of the Guildhall

Another couple of examples to be going on with – what’s gone on here with all the different brickwork at this house in The Close?

This metal….thing, above a restaurant on Bird St, must have played some role in the building’s past, but what?

And when we’re talking about layers of history, should we also consider the present and future of buildings? I notice that the Angel Croft hotel has unsurprisingly made its annual appearance on the English Heritage At Risk register…..

Sources

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=37864

Cross City

There’s some evidence that there were several stone crosses in Lichfield, although as far as I know, no physical remains have ever been found.

The most well documented of these is the market cross. According to the Lichfield volume of the History of the County of Stafford (1), a market cross stood north of St. Mary’s in the late Middle Ages and then some time around 1530, Dean Denton surrounded it with eight arches and added a roof  to keep the market traders dry. The building was topped with eight statues of apostles, two brass crucifixes on the east and west sides, and a bell, as you can see in this picture on the Staffordshire Past Track site.    The cross was destroyed in the civil war, and replaced with a market house, as shown in the illustration below (although it is referred to as a cross on the notes?) which has also now disappeared.

Taken from John Jackson’s book, History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield, 1805

There is a possibility that there was a preaching cross in the grounds of St John’s Hospital as documentation shows that Dean FitzRalph preached outside in the cemetery. (2) Information on this specific example is really sketchy, but there is a surviving preaching cross in Bloxwich which you can read about in a great article on The Borough Blog.

More evidence exists for a cross at the junction of Tamworth St and Lombard St. There is a cross like structure shown there on John Speed’s 1610 map, and in 1805 Thomas Harwood wrote that there was a stone cross in Tamworth St. (3) There are also a couple of references in old property deeds such as one from April 1316 describing a ½ burgage in street between the Stone Cross and Stow Gate.(4)

The Market Cross and the Stone Cross at Tamworth St can be seen depicted on John Speed’s 1610 map of Lichfield

A cross apparently stood near Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield, giving rise to a theory that it this is where the lane got its name from (the other theory is that is was a pilgrimage route, to St Chad’s shrine, where people would walk with ‘cross in hand’. The route has recently been incorporated into a new pilgrimage and heritage route called Two Saints Way). Harwood said,  ”(Beacon Street) extends from the causeway over the Minster pool which separates it from Bird Street to houses at the extremity of the city called the Cross in the Hand and where stood an ancient cross ad finem villas.’ The pastscape record for the cross is here.

This week I came across another reference, this time Bacone’s Cross, and which was also thought to be in Beacon St, at the end of the town. Was the ancient cross at Cross in Hand Lane and Bacone’s Cross the same cross?

The Bacone’s Cross/The Cross in Hand and the Tamworth St cross were both situated at the ends of the town. Does this mean that they were boundary markers of some sort?  If so, could there have been more crosses marking other places on the City’s boundary.  There were city gates at both Beacon St and Tamworth St.  However, the probable sites of the gates don’t correspond exactly with the probable sites of the crosses e.g. the above example says ‘between the Stow Gate and the Stone Cross’.

Tamworth Gate plaque on Lee Garden Chinese Restaurant Credit: Ell Brown (taken from flickr photostream).

In the absence of more information about Lichfield specifically, I looked elsewhere to see if crosses would have been used to mark boundaries. St Albans was surrounded by a ditch, like Lichfield (and there’s a link with the story of the  Christian martyrs but that’s a bit too much of a tangent for now!). The History of the County of Hertford, says this about the city’s boundary (5)

Crosses were at an early date erected at important points in the line of boundary, and at each of the entrances to the town, namely, the Stone Cross or North Gate Cross  at the north on the Sandridge Road, the Red Cross in Sopwell Lane, at the entrance by the old road from London, the Cross with the Hand in Eywood Lane, the Black Cross, probably at the angle where Tonmans Dike goes from the boundary of the houses in Fishpool Street towards the Claypits, and St. John’s Cross at an angle of the boundary in what is now known as Harley Street, but lately as Mud Lane.

It’s interesting to see that some of the names are the same – Stone Cross, Cross with the Hand – but I don’t want to start jumping to conclusions until there is much more evidence!

Finally, there is a document relating to property in Freeford (4), which describes ‘three selions of land at Lichfield, near Le Hedeless Cross, on the road towards Freeford’ in the time of Edward III – Henry V. Does this refer to the Tamworth St Stone Cross, or another cross altogether?

What happened to these crosses? Time? Religious differences? Where did they end up? There’s something in one of my all time favourites book that gives me hope (possibly misguided) that there is a chance, no matter how slim, that things that have long been thought to have vanished might turn up again one day in some form or another. In England in Particular (6), in the section on Wayside and Boundary Crosses, it says that,

Some crosses have been found in hedgebanks, with shafts used as gateposts. A number have been found by researching field names:two fields called Cross Park revealed previously undiscovered stones.

Fingers crossed!

Edit:

In view of the above, I thought it’d be worth having a look at field names etc, in Lichfield. There is an entry in an transcribed inventory relating to the real estate of the vicars that says Deanslade: Falseway to cross called Fanecross (4). There’s a Banecross on another transcription and I think one of these could be down to a typo and that they could be the same place, There is also an entry for a place known as Croscroft, which was on the road to Elford, near St Michael’s Churchyard (3)

Another edit:

I was hoping there would be an ancient cross somewhere in Lichfield. Well, I finally found one! Actually that’s a fib. What I found is a photograph in a book of archaeologists finding one. A decorated cross shaft was discovered built into the foundations of the north wall of the nave of Lichfield Cathedral. It’s thought to be Saxon or Saxo-Norman, and could be a surviving remnant of the earlier church on the site. I wish I could share a photograph here, but all I can do is tell you that it’s on plate 1 in the ‘South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions 1980-1981 Volume XXII’ book, on the local history shelves at the library!.

Sources:

(1) Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42349#s6

(2) Hospitals: Lichfield, St John the Baptist’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3(1970), pp. 279-289

(3) The history and antiquities of the church and city of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood

(4) Collections for a History of Staffordshire Part II- Vol VI (1886), William Salt Archaeological Society

(5)  ’The city of St Albans: Introduction’, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908), pp. 469-477

(6) England in Particular, Sue Clifford & Angela King for Common Ground

Hospital Ward

In 1781, John Snape carried out a census of Lichfield, making a list of the different wards of the city in the process. The wards are as follows: Bacon St (now Beacon St), Bird St, Sandford St, Sandford St below the water, St John’s St, St John’s St above the bars, Sadler St (now Market St), Bore St, Wade St, Dam St, Tamworth St, Lombard St, Stow St and Greenhill.

I think that these are the wards depicted by the flags hanging from the ceiling of the Guildhall, discussed here in my previous post. Now that I’ve finally made it back into the Guildhall to check which flag corresponds with which ward, I’m going to take each one in turn, trying to discover the significance of the design on each flag. Some I’m pretty sure of, others I’m really not (I’m talking about you Sandford St below the water ward!)

 

Photo from Ell Brown via flickr

 I’m starting with the flag that represents St John’s ward. Not only is it my favourite of the banners, it’s also seasonal with the feast of St John’s (or Midsummer’s Day) on 24th June. St John St gets its name from The Hospital of St John The Baptist (the place with the chimmneys!). The design from the flag is also on the board outside St John’s chapel, but what does it represent? The yellow flowers must be St John’s Wort, associated both with the saint and midsummer. What are the flowers growing around though?  Well, it’s taken a lot of googling but I think that it’s St Anthony’s Cross (also known as the Cross of Tau), often associated with St Francis. This possibly explains its inclusion, as the site of the Franciscan Friary lies within this ward . Part of the old Friary wall can still be seen on St John St.

Please feel free to join in with the speculation on this and any of the other flags that follow!

Photo of St John’s board from Ell Brown’s Lichfield Group photo set on his flickr stream, included with thanks.

Hospitality in Lichfield

One of the places I really wanted to see during the Lichfield Heritage weekend was St John’s Hospital. On my way I bumped into someone I know. ‘I’m just off to St John’s Hospital’, I said ’Oh where’s that?’, was the reply. As soon as I told her it was the place with all the chimneys, she of course knew exactly where I meant!

Looking back through the entrance from the courtyard. I'm normally peeping through in the other direction!

Beyond the entrance is a lovely courtyard, where we were met by one of the residents who told us about the history of the hospital, which you can read more about on the St John’s website.  The Master’s house is now a Georgian building and you can see a drawing of it circa 1833 on Staffordshire Pasttrack. We were told today that some of the wooden beams inside came from galleons. I wonder if that’s true or just a story? I have done a quick search and it seems like quite a few old buildings claim to have beams reclaimed from ships.

Side of St John's with Masters House in the background

From the courtyard, we went to have a look around the chapel, which is the oldest of all of the buildings here.The most striking feature is the stained glass window by John Piper. I think I was suprised that this was so modern (it was created in 1984).

Clockwise from top left, the four corners represent the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke & John

 

There are stones embedded in the top of the altar, collected by a former Master whilst in Jerusalem & the surrounding area.

After leaving the chapel we visited the accomodation of one of the residents, which was lovely & incredibly peaceful bearing in mind the windows are looking out onto St John St!  On the tour, I overheard someone say that the chimneys were the oldest domestic chimneys in the country. They are blocked off from the rooms now and I wonder when they were last used? Why do you always think of questions after the event?!

Finally, we were invited to have tea & cake. And then some more cake! One of the residents told us, ‘ We’re keeping up the tradition of hospitality!’. It’s true - on our visit we were made to feel incredibly welcome. As you can see I forgot to take any photos of the courtyard or indeed the aforementioned chimneys (I may have been distracted by the cake…). However, the grounds are open to the public, so you can go and have a look for yourself!

Edit 2/10/2011:
I came across a bit of an interesting snippet about Tudor nepotism relating to St John’s. In his book, ‘Note on a History of the Hospital of St John’s', Harry Baylis says that the hospital lost none of its possessions in the reformation, as the Master at the time was the brother of Rowland Lee who officiated at the marriage of Henry VIII & Ann Boleyn, and later became the Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield. Wonder if this is true or not?