I understand that for about 330 years, Lichfield was not just a city, it was a county, one of 18 towns and cities in England which gained county corporate status at one time or another, for a variety of reasons e.g. Poole became a county separate to Dorset for reasons involving piracy! Lichfield’s status was granted by Mary I, apparently as a reward to the city for support during the Duke of Northumberland‘s rebellion.
A perambulation of the border of the city had been taking place since 1548, when Lichfield was made a city in Edward VI’s charter. However, that was carried out in view of the Sheriff of Staffordshire. Queen Mary’s charter, gave Lichfield the privilege of having its own Sheriff, who took over the perambulating duties and began the tradition of the Sheriff’s Ride which still takes place every September, on the Saturday nearest to the Nativity of the Blessed Mary. This year, it’s this Saturday (8th September).
According to the county history, the earliest records of Lichfield’s boundaries date back to the late 1700s (although older records of surrounding places indicate that changes in the borders have occurred over the years, particularly in the north and west). For those wondering, Lichfield is no longer a county, it reverted back to being part of Staffordshire in 1888.
Sheriff’s Ride, 1908. Taken from Lichfield DC flickr stream.
Thomas Harwood wrote in 1806,
The boundaries of the city of Lichfield according to ancient writings are a circuit of about sixteen miles.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t say where they are from, or just how ancient these writings are. However, it’s still interesting to read these ‘ancient writings’, not least because of the place names, familiar and not so that crop up along the route. (Some of the spellings are pretty interesting too!)
It begins at a place called the Cross and Hand near the end of a street there called Bacon street and from thence goeth northward along the lane leading to Longdon Church unto a little lane * at the further side of Oakenfields and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic-filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping Stones lane and so along that lane taking in the land of Richard Dyott Esq Pone’s Fields unto a lane leading from Lichfield to Curborough Somerville so along that lane towards Lichfield until you come to the upper end of the grounds called Scott’s Orchard and then leaving that lane turn into a field of Lichfield called Whisich at a stilt going into the fields called Browne’s Fields and so taking in the field clled Whisich then go by the closes called Browne’s Fields Hedge unto the grounds called God’s Croft Hedge and so along that hedge taking in the field called Whisich lane called Goslinge’s lane and along Goslinge’s Lane unto a lane called Matthew Coal Lane and so over across that lane into a field called Cross field at or near an elm tree and so along a head land about the middle of Cressfield unto the nearer end of Gorsty Bank into the lane leading from Lichfield to a cross way called Burton turnings and from thence along Ikenield street taking in Spear Hill and Boley unto a cross way leading from Lichfield to Whittington and so along that lane towards Whittington unto the south end of Austin’s Coat Grounds then turning upon the left hand at that brook to a gate going into Fulfin Grounds unto the moors called Dernford Moors and so along by the hedge of those moors unto the nether side of Dernford Mill stream and so going by the mill door to the pool dam and going along by the pool and the brook taking in Horslade and a meadow belonging to Freeford House unto a bridge called Freeford Bridge in a lane leading from Lichfield to Tamworth and so from that bridge up the sandy lane to Freeford House and along that lane to the corner of the meadow and then turning into Bispells at the corner of the meadow and so going by the meadow hedge until you come to the brook that runneth to Freeford Bridge and so going up a little pool taking in all Bispells unto a ford called Baltrex ford and then entering into Old field turn up the left hand to the brook that runs from Freeford Pool and so along that brook to Freeford Pool and along by the pool and the brook that comes from Swynfen Mill until you come into the lane that leads from Swynfen unto the mill and so along that lane to a gate that leads from Lichfield unto Swynfen called Old Field Gate and then not coming in at that gate but going to the corner of the hedge adjoining to Cley Lands come in at a gap and taking in all Old field come by the demesnes of Swynfen unto a place called Long bridge and so entering into a little lane between Long furlong and Long bridge grounds leading to Well crofts and so taking in all Well crofts along by the Knowlc Leasowes being the Hospital Land unto Ikeneld street and so along Ikeneld street unto the further side of a close called Gorsty Leasowe and leaving the hedge on the left hand taking in that close going along by that hedge leading to Hare house Ground and so along that hedge unto the top of Dean’s Slade taking in all Hare house Ground northward enter into Park field leaving the hedge on the right hand and so following that hedge unto a little lane at Aldershawe that comes down that lane to the gate and through the gate then turn upon the left hand by Aldershawe Hedge taking in the barn and so go into the Wheat Close leaving the hedge on the left hand unto the road called the Fosse way up to the top of Mickle hill then crossing over Pipe green along an old decayed cart way into a lane end that leads to Pipe grange lane to the further side of Padwell’s and so taking in Padwell’s leaving the hedge on the left hand to a little lane that leadeth into Ashfield leaving the hedge on the left hand into the grounds called Lammas Grounds and leaving the hedge on the left hand and so into Lemondsley then following the brook to Pipe green gate and so along the brook in Pipe green into a little lane that butteth upon the lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Pipe and crossing that lane into Smithfield at the corner of Abnell Hedge and so taking in all Smithfield leaving Abnell Ground on the left hand unto the Cross and Hand where it began
*now Featherbed Lane
The ride now begins at the Guildhall, rather than Cross in Hand Lane but I’ve always thought it would be great to do the journey described above, looking out for the place names and landscape features mentioned (and potentially getting very lost, as some of them used in the directions may no longer exist!). As I don’t have a horse (my equine experience consists only of a few pony trekking expeditions, one of which ended in me being bitten by one in Cumbria), it’s a journey to make on foot, and probably in stages. I have recently made a start but rather pathetically only got as far as Featherbed Lane. Only another 15 1/2 or so miles to go then. Just as well I’m not the Sheriff of Lichfield.
Cross in Hand Lane
Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340
The History & Antiquities of the Church & City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood 1806