On the corner of Bore St and Breadmarket St is a building that I’ve never paid much attention to before. However, after hearing that someone carrying out some work there in the 1970s had uncovered a dolphin mosaic, I thought I’d fish a bit deeper into the building’s history…
The someone in question was Frank Clarke, a regular contributor to the fabulous Facebook group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield, Staffs if…..’. Frank found the mosaic under rotting floorboards when carrying out renovation work there in the 1970s. According to Frank, the mosaic was concreted over and may still be there to this day. Unfortunately, it seems that due to practicalities (involving concrete and money!) it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.
What we do know though is that the Dolphin Inn once stood on the site, demolished in 1912 and replaced by the current building in 1913 by local builders JR Deacon to house the Walsall and District Co-operative Society Ltd Branch No.13. You can still see where the lettering for this ever so catchy name used to be, as shown in all its glory here, on the Staffs Past Track site. Burtons were the most recent occupiers, but they left in March this year, leaving the property empty. (1)
According to John Shaw and his now legendary book, The Old Pubs of Lichfield, the Dolphin is first listed in 1818. However,after finding out that the original building on the site was timber framed, dating back to the 16th century, I was hoping to find out something about the building’s earlier uses. After reading the obituary of Rev John Kirk (d.1851), it seems that prior to becoming an inn, the building had been occupied by a baker, with some of the upper rooms being used as a Roman Catholic chapel created in 1801.(2)
Rev Kirk had been the priest at the chapel at Pipe Hall from 1788 to 1793, where Catholics in Lichfield had previously worshipped. When this chapel was closed following the sale of the property to a non-Catholic he was asked to return to Lichfield as the resident priest at the new chapel. However, Kirk found the location and conditions far from ideal – the sanctuary was apparently directly above the baker’s oven and Kirk wasn’t happy about living in such close quarters with the baker and his family. By 1803, Rev Kirk had built a new chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul in Upper St John St. Due to religious sensitivities, the chapel was originally designed to look like a dwelling house, but 1834 a turret and a new entrance was added, and the name changed to Holy Cross. The congregation was relatively small, but numbers were often boosted by those passing on their way to London and French Prisoners of War.
Back to the mosaic, which started all of this off! You would have to assume that its depiction of a dolphin is a reference to the name of the Inn. No great mystery there (although I would like to know why that particular name was chosen for a Lichfield pub!). What is more of a puzzle is how the mosaic came to be in the new building. Was it rescued during the demolition of the old one? Was it created to reference the history of the building that previously stood on the site? Or was the previous building not fully demolished, just significantly altered? I don’t know, and it seems probably never will.
I’m very grateful to Gareth Thomas for bringing the matter to the attention of the experts at Lichfield District Council, and also to the Civic Society for making enquiries as well. I think it’s great that members of the facebook group, the Civic Society, the council and even me have all been able to contribute to the discussion. This is how it should be, and I would like to see people working together more in the future, building on the great work that Gareth has done to bridge the gap between council and its residents, not least by making historic photographs and documents available through his own blog, and elsewhere.
I understand that talks are ongoing, however, the general feeling at present seems to be that without further evidence, the cost and disruption arising from trying to retrieve the mosaic (if indeed it has survived the last forty years) could not be justified. A shame, but for now it seems we shall have to let sleeping dolphins lie….unless anyone out there knows any more?
Edit 12/5/2013 Just reading about the opening of the Co-op. Apparently the builder, Councillor Deacon handed the chairman of the Co-op a walking stick made from one of the wooden beams of the old Dolphin Inn, which is quite a nice little addition to the story. No mention of a mosaic yet though
(1) Burtons previously had a branch on Market St, where you can still see the two foundation stones commemorating the opening by two of business founder Montague Burton’s sons. The post I did on this ages ago is here
(2) So that takes us back to 1800-ish. Still three hundred years or so of the building’s history to account for though!
Thanks to Frank Clarke for allowing me to share the story of his discovery here.
The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw
Catholic Staffordshire 1500 – 1850, M R Greenslade
The Gentlemans Magazine Volumes 191 – 192
Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 155-159