Hollow Earth

One of the most popular posts on the blog has been The Lichfield Underground. It seems people are fascinated by the unseen part of the city, the potential of what could be beneath their feet as they walk the streets.

Captivating, yet slightly scary….

It was this fascination with tales of the underground that started the chain of events culminating in the formation of Museufy, a group made up of myself and my friends Mark and Magdalena – two creative, innovative people that it’s a joy to collaborate with.  The aim of the group is to create alternative ways of collectively exploring history and interacting with our surroundings. We have a website where you can read our manifesto and find out about some of the projects we are working on.

One of these is ‘Hollow Earth Mapping’, a project in which we want to create a way to document underground spaces, mixing together reality and rumours.  We’re asking anyone who already contributed to The Lichfield Underground post via the comments section, or anyone else who has a story, to share them on our flickr page.  It will be a chance to look at  familiar surroundings through the fascinating, captivating and slightly scary world of the underground.

As the stories are shared, the underground spaces will be cut out, creating a hollow space on the map.   The flickr group will be a place for discussion about the stories, and the possibilities that might follow the creation of the map…..

Fools & Hobby Horses

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place each year on Wakes Monday (the first Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September), which means that this year it will be on 10th September.

As far as I can gather, the horn dance is one of those traditions where no-one is quite sure what it’s all about. There are six dancers carrying reindeer antlers, a fool, a hobby horse, Maid Marian, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player & a triangle player. The horns are collected from the church of St Nicholas at 8am and are returned 12 hours later after the participants have danced around the village and out to Blithfield Hall. According to the horn dance of Abbots Bromley website, when one of the horns was damaged in 1976, a piece was sent to be carbon dated. It was found to date back to 1065 (plus or minus 80 years) although the general consensus is that this doesn’t really help to date the dance itself.

I’m ashamed to say that every year I’ve planned to go and watch the dance, but haven’t made it for one reason or another. I have been to the village on several non-horn dance occasions though and it is a lovely place.  However, Mr J Carver, in his 1779 book ‘The Universal Traveller’ wasn’t impressed , saying,

It stands at the distance of a hundred and twenty eight miles from London but contains nothing worthy of note

(Lichfield fares a little better. In Mr Carver’s opinion, ‘It is a long, straggling place but has some handsome houses’).

Walking through the village, to my 21st century eyes, practically every building looks worthy of note. Amongst many others, there’s the Butter Cross (or Burger Cross as a practical joker would have it in 2002), the Goat’s Head Inn (which is thought to date back to the early 1600s, with possibly even older cellars and of course, a secret passage story!) and Almshouses (above the doors are the Bagot family arms and the inscription Deo et Igenis DDD Lamberius Bagot Arm Anno 1705).

The Butter Cross, The Goats Head Inn & St Nicholas Church

View of St Nicholas, where the horns are displayed throughout the year.

Church of St Nicholas, from the High St

Almshouses

A couple of years ago the BBC made a programme about folk dancing in England and you can see the clip about the horn dance here. There are also some photographs of the tradition taking place in the 1930s here on the Staffordshire Past Track website.

I believe that the horns never leave the parish boundary (when not in use they are stored in the church of St Nicholas) although the dance can be performed elsewhere (another set of antlers is used on these occasions). I’ve also just discovered that this year the third annual Abbots Bromliad will take place in California, where they are hoping to beat their own record for most people dancing the horn dance at once (144 in 2010). You can even order your own set of acrylic antlers for $20 to help you feel the part! Hmmm, I wonder what the postage & packaging would be to get a pair sent to Lichfield….and would they get here in time to wear on the 10th September?

Seriously, we’re lucky to live so near to a place where one of the country’s best known (and possibly one of the oldest) traditions takes place and I really must make an effort to go this year to see it for myself.

 

The Lichfield Underground

St Mary's House, The Close.

My introduction to Lichfield’s underground world came a couple of years ago, on the thoroughly enjoyable Gruesome & Ghostly City tour.

Then, back in January 2011, there was a series of great posts on TamworthTimeHikes about underground mysteries in Tamworth. As a result, information came to light (sorry!)about tunnels in Lichfield and Mark kindly passed the information on to me. Since then, tunnels have resurfaced several times (sorry again!), most recently in conversations with Vickie Sutton, Brownhills Bob , the folks at the BeaconStBlog, and as you may already have seen, in the comments section of the Monks Walk post. So, I thought I should finally get around to doing something on them! Here’s what I’ve heard/read/speculated about so far…..

1)      Under Sandford St

My first tunnel! Standing on the corner of Sandford St on a chilly October night we were told that tunnels led from that area to the Cathedral. In recent conversations on the Monks Walk post, ‘Born a Lichfeldian’ has contributed more to the story of the tunnel, suggesting that the tunnel also runs to The Friary.  You can read the discussion here.

2)      White Hall on Beacon St

In a book ‘Lichfield & its Cathedral’ by H Snowden Ward (1893) is the following description “From the cellars of the inn, an underground passage ran some distance and was popularly believed to terminate as St Chad’s Church. That is went so far is extremely unlikely, and what was its object or termination will never be known, for a few years ago the late owner of the White Hall caused the portion under that house to be filled up, and without having the passage explored through its whole length”.

Edit 15/11/2011

City librarian & historian J W Jackson (who I’ll introduce you properly to another time) noted in his weekly history column in the Lichfield Mercury of the 1930s that the tunnel under White Hall was dug out by a previous owner during the plague. Presumably he wished to go about his business without soming into contact with carriers of the disease or the bad air that some thought caused the plague at the time. Would be interesting to see if there are stories of any tunnels elsewhere being dug for this purpose?

3)      Under Dam St

Some information from googling,  that I think came may have originally come from the Staffs Books Shop that used to be on Dam St, says that there is speculation that a passage runs along Dam St from the Cathedral to the Guildhall, and was used as an escape route during the Civil War. In an 1819 book, ‘A Short Account of the Ancient & Modern State of the City & Close of Lichfield’, it says ‘A large subterraneous passage of stone, several feet beneath the surface, has been traced from the middle of Quonians Lane, under the houses on the west side of the street, for a considerable distance in the gardens; its use cannot now be ascertained.”

4)      St Mary’s House in The Close

In the Lichfield Records Office there is a copy of Lomax’s Pictoral Book of Lichfield, edited by Alan J Bull. It describes St Mary’s House as the oldest house in Lichfield and says that the East & South walls are part of the original building which dates back to before 1321 and formed part of the Close’s defences – at the base the walls are 6ft thick and you can still see the arrowslits. The book goes on to say that tradition has it that below this building are underground passages leading to St Chad’s, White Hall, the Friary, St John’s Hospital and the Old Brewery on Sandford St.

5)     Beacon Street again!

Vickie’s Aunt remembers seeing a very large tunnel somewhere in the vicinity of Beacon St, which she describes as being whitewashed and large enough for a coach & horses to get through.

6)      Tudor Tea Rooms

On their own website, there is a description of a passage going from their cellars to the Cathedral. They speculate that it may have been dug out  during the Civil War. Apparently, the “passage has been followed for some distance in recent years, but is too dangerous to pursue further”

7)      Greenhill

A rumour of a tunnel behind a building on Greenhill, which used to be a pub called the Spread Eagle. (You can still see the archway for the coaches & the building is called ‘Spread Eagle House’).

As well as discussing tunnels, I’ve also been talking to people recently about the importance of stories & legends, like these. Do we really need to get to the truth or should we leave them be & enjoy them for what they are? I still haven’t made my mind up, so, I’ll leave it for you to decide in this case.

Therefore, this next part is a bit like a Choose your Own Adventure book (remember those? I used to have my fingers bookmarking about 5 different options at a time!). If you would like to investigate the truth behind Lichfield’s mysterious tunnels you could start by clicking here or exploring some old maps of Lichfield here. Just suggestions though, can’t guarantee you’ll find the answers!

If you’re happy to accept the stories as they are, then relax and perhaps go & make yourself a nice cup of tea :)

Edit:

I’ve been told about another tunnel by someone on Twitter – one between Gaia Lane and the Cathedral. Apparently it leads to a house that used to be used as a laundry/servants quarters. A relative of my tunnel informant has actually been in the tunnel, and says it is blocked off. We’re thinking laundry tunnel, servants passage – anyone else know anything?

Interestingly there was a daughter and mother,  Ellen Stone and a Mary Skelton, both described as a ‘Laundress’ living at Gaia Lane on the 1851 census. Going off topic somewhat, Ellen’s son Henry lived with them. He was illegitimate and there is some interesting speculation on who his Father may have been. You can read more at the Stone Family History site here.

Edit: 10/3/2012

I’ve come across a scribbled note I made some time ago which says there is a tunnel underneath Farewell Church. Interestingly, there is a work of semi- fiction set at the nunnery that preceded the church. The story is set at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and is called ‘A Tale of Fairwell’. The last scene of the book is set in ‘the subterranean vaults of Fairwell Priory’.

Also, Hanch Hall has a confirmed underground passage of some description – the listed building description says there are ‘extensive brick vaulted cellars with vaulted passage or drainage channel leading into the park’.