You’ve probably heard about the exciting developments in the Lichfield Waterworks Trust’s campaign to save Sandfields Pumping Station for the community. If you haven’t a) where have you been all weekend? and b) please take a look at chairman Dave Moore’s recent announcement here and a great post from the ever supportive Brownhills Bob here.

Sandfields Pumping Station. If you still don't know where this amazing place is, tell me and I'll take you there myself.

Sandfields Pumping Station. If you still don’t know where this amazing place is, tell me and I’ll take you there myself.

You probably won’t be surprised that I want to add my two penn’orth. For all its tangents and diversions, this is essentially a blog about Lichfield history and to be able to write a post saying that we are now going to be actively involved in preserving and promoting one of the most important architectural, industrial and social heritage sites in the city (and indeed country)…well, let’s just say I’ve had to pinch myself a few times.

One of the three waterwalks arranged by the Lichfield Waterworks Trust or the Heritage Weekend 2015

One of the three waterwalks arranged by the Lichfield Waterworks Trust for the Heritage Weekend 2015

On 19th September 2015,  the Trust took part in the Lichfield Heritage Weekend with three water themed walks around the city and a display in the museum at St Mary’s. We wanted to share the story of how Lichfield supplied clean drinking water to the Black Country during the cholera epidemics of the mid-nineteenth century and to highlight the heroic role Sandfields Pumping Station and its now unique Cornish Beam Engine played in this. Rather fittingly, the theme of the 2015 weekend was ‘Making History’ as here we are just five weeks later, in a position to do exactly that.

Our display of photos on the theme of Lichfield Water contributed by members of the public during Summer 2015.

Our display of photos on the theme of Lichfield Water contributed by members of the public during Summer 2015. (Photo by J Gallagher)

I’ve been grinning from ear to ear since I heard the news. Congratulations, thanks and respect must of course go to chairman Dave Moore and the other members of the Lichfield Waterworks Trust for their tenacity, dedication and hard work but also their optimism, vision and ability to talk me into wearing a boiler suit in public. Thanks also though to those of you came who came on a water walk, sent us a photo of a Stowe Pool sunset, visited John Child’s amazing model of a Newcomen engine at our stall in the Festival Market, lent us your name in support, picked up a leaflet, got really excited when you heard about the Hanch tunnel running below your feet, chucked your two penn’orth worth in our bucket during the Bower Procession and showed us in many other ways that you cared deeply about not only the past but also the future.

Some of the Waterworks Trust Gang collection during the Lichfield Bower 2015

Some of the Lichfield Waterworks Trust gang collecting during the Lichfield Bower 2015

As David and Bob both rightly say, the real hard work starts here and we’ll need your ongoing support as we embark on a new chapter in Lichfield’s water story. I’m hoping it’s going to be ‘Sandfields Pumping Station – built for the community and saved for the community by the community’. Sounds like a great way of making history to me.

A beaming Gill on last week's Arts & Heritage procession. She carries the boiler suit look off much better than I do.

A beaming Gill from the LWT on last week’s Arts & Heritage procession (she carries the boiler suit look off much better than I do).

Capturing The Castle

This year’s Heritage Open Days are now in full swing and yesterday a friend of mine took me on a grand day out to Astley Castle in Warwickshire. I’m sure I could find a tenuous link to Lichfield if I looked hard enough, but why be parochial when there’s an opportunity to share a stunning example of how even our most neglected historic buildings can be given a sustainable future? Even if it is in Warwickshire. Anyway, I really like castles.

Astley Castle exterior - new bricks built into ancient stones

Astley Castle exterior – new bricks built into ancient stones

I’ve never seen one quite like this though. Actuallly, it’s more fortified manor house than castle, but it has crenellations and a moat and has been associated with three English queens so let’s not quibble too much over nomenclature. The fortified manor house castle has fallen into varying states of disrepair at various points throughout its seven hundred year history but it was a fire in 1978, and the subsequent vandalism, theft and collapse, that rendered Astley a complete ruin. In the late 1990s, the Landmark Trust (1) attempted to rescue the property using conventional restoration and conversion methods but it was financially and technically impossible. However, the Trust refused to give up on Astley and returned to the property in 2005. Accepting that parts of the building were now beyond repair, they held an architectural competition with a brief to create a four bedroomed house to sleep eight people at the castle. Ideas ranged from building an new house in the grounds, which would have made the castle itself the world’s grandest garden shed (“Have you seen the tool box, love? Think it’s in the Jacobean wing, next to the hosepipe”.) to building a new house behind the retained facade (2). The design that won the competition, and went on to win the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize was created by Witherford Watson and Mann architects. In my very humble opinion, it blends and bonds the ancient and modern together magnificently. I’ve seen it described as a reinvention rather than a restoration and perhaps that is the way forward. After all, as one of the project architects said, when you have a building that has been continually altered to meet the needs of its inhabitants over a span of seven hundred years, which point in time do you choose to restore it to?

A room with a view

A room with a view

astley castle ruins from windown

Another one

Of course, following our visit I now really want to stay there (I don’t have a bucket list but I am going to start one so I can put ‘have a bath at Astley Castle on it’). I’d say that about anywhere with a bed and a bit of history though. What’s different about Astley is it’s possibly the first historic building I’ve visited where ideas about the present and the future have captured my imagination more than stories about the past. At a place where those stories include that of the fugitive Henry ‘father of Lady Jane’ Grey hiding in a nearby hollow oak, being betrayed by a servant and executed at the Tower of London, and returning afterwards to haunt his former home minus his head, that’s quite an achievement.

Immerse yourself in history

Immerse yourself in history

(1) The Landmark Trust is a conservation charity which rescues at risk historic buildings by restores them using traditional techniques and makes them available for holiday lettings.

(2) Bingo! There’s our tenuous Lichfield link. I’m sure I remember this being proposed (and subsequently rejected) as an idea for the Victoria Hospital.

astley castle exterior

Tame Adventures

The Spring Bank Holiday weekend is almost upon us which means it’s Bower time again! If you’re a Lichfeldian, the Greenhill Bower needs no introduction. If you aren’t, then their website here will tell you everything you need to know.

Lichfield’s oldest community event takes place on Monday, but in the meantime there’s a brand new one taking place in Coleshill, which looks fantastic. On Saturday 23rd May, the first ever TameFest will be celebrating the heritage of the Tame Valley, between Coleshill and Tamworth, with a range of stalls and free activities including woodworking, willow weaving, bird walks, stone carving and ale tasting with Church End Brewery. Normally, it’s the latter of these would be the biggest draw of the day for me. However, I’m even more excited about the fact that my old mate Mark Lorenzo and his Museufy group will be there leading TimeHikes walks which explore the history of Coleshill through its hidden places. If the name sounds familiar, it may well be that you remember Mark’s brilliant ‘Tamworth Time Hikes‘ blog.

TameFest is taking place at The Croft in Coleshill between 11am and 4pm, and if you want to go on a free TimeHike, get yourself to the Museufy stand at 11.30am or 2.45pm. Further information on the event and the other activities taking place can be found here.


A little closer to home, on Sunday, we’re doing a walk along the hedges and holloways of Abnalls Lane, across to the spring and church at Farewell, and back down the pilgrims’ path of Cross in Hand Lane. Via a pub of course. We’re meeting at 10.30am in the car park next to the football pitches on the Western Bypass. There’s more information on the Adventures in Lichfield blog or on the Facebook page. If ‘adventures’ conjures up images of zipwires and sleeping in subzero temperatures for you, let me reassure you that our adventures are more teddy bears’ picnic than they are Bear Grylls.

The idea for Adventures in Lichfield came about after talking to another old friend about the importance of getting people together for no other reason than to have fun and enjoy themselves. We’ve got other adventures coming up including ghost hunting in Cannock Wood, paddling and a picnic on Pipe Green and we’re just working out the details of a wildlife walk at dusk. So please come along and join in – you have only your socks to lose.

Muddy SockWherever you end up this bank holiday weekend, have a good one :)


Two Minutes of Your Time

Whether you’re Dimbles born and bred or a Katie-come-lately like me, everyone who has ever called Lichfield home is a part of the city and its history. A new project, led by artist and sculptor Peter Walker, wants to hear from you about what it’s like growing up, living and working here.

The aim of the project is to collect two minute long stories and anecdotes, and/or related photographs.  These will then be combined with archive images of the city to create a present day digital record of Lichfield and the surrounding district, as told through the voices of local people. The project began in Burntwood, where hundreds of images and stories have already been collected from people from all different backgrounds, and is part of a wider art project. As Peter explained in his email,

“We believe it is significant that we make a record of what it was like to grow up in the area from the community’s point of view.  There are many shared memories alongside individual successes that deserve to be recorded for posterity. Your story may be for example, the day you first went to school, winning a trophy for your local team, or simply memories of buildings and shops or people you knew. If you don’t wish to be recorded or bring a picture then you can still come along and write an anonymous postcard with information relating to your memory, to give to the collection to tell your story. Images and stories collected will be turned into digital formats and displayed on-line, with some being made into a short digital film and all stories will be archived as a digital time capsule.”

If you want to contribute, there are sessions at Lichfield Library on 5th and 6th of February 2015 between 10.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm. Like Lichfield itself, it’ll be what you make it.

Day to day life in Lichfield

Day to day life in Lichfield, Summer 2014

Pubs and Publishing

There’s been a lot of curiosity about what’s happening at the site of the former Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road. Panache Restaurant closed some months back and since then there has been a fair bit of activity at the site. Judging by accounts set up on social media, it seems it will be reopening in Spring 2015 as a pub/bar/restaurant known as The Barn.

Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

October 2014. Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

Whilst we wait to see what the future holds for the pub, I thought I’d have a quick look at its past. As always in hostelry related matters I had a look in John Shaw’s ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield, which tells us that the Three Tuns inn was first recorded in 1771 and would originally have served the wagon trade as a roadhouse of its day.

Local historian J W Jackson’s ‘Victorian Lichfield’ column, written for the Mercury in the 1930s, talks about the ‘Cherry Wakes’ held at the inn. Crowds of visitors would arrive to enjoy the ripe white heart cherries grown in an adjoining orchard, and wash them down with ale. I wonder when the orchard was grubbed up and if any of the trees are still there?

In September 1938, F H Shilcock took over from Peter Radford as landlord and remained at the Three Tuns for fifteen years.Mr Shilcock was also a poet and in 1950 an anthology of his work,‘Poems by a Lichfield Innkeeper’ was published. From time to time, his verses appeared in the Lichfield Mercury, including this one published in August 1943 about the gathering in of the harvest in the fields behind the pub.

Near to the quiet of a country inn,
I daily watched the field of wheat
The summer wind made wave,
And swayed the ears of corn,
The sun did change the shades of green to golden brown,
And nature gave each head a golden crown.
Then harvest time drew near,
And reapers made a way;
The binder came that day
And laid the precious grain in sheaves upon the ground.
Now the field is still,
And fowl from farm are taking fill,
With duck and sparrow joining in the band –
No doubt they think life is grand.
Enjoying fallen grain upon the stubble,
Where once the partridge had his cover.
Dame Nature, be so kind:
By peaceful ways
Another sanctuary find.

Along with every other pub in Lichfield, the Three Tuns gets a mention in this poetical pub crawl, published in the Mercury in September 1922. It’s a long poem (there were a lot of pubs to get round back then!) so here’s an abridged version:

King George the Fourth one day
Stood on the Bowling Green
‘Midst Staffordshire Nut and Acorn,
Where Bluebell had been seen.

A frown was seen upon the face
Of Little George the brave;
For Prince of Wales, his royal grace
Would not a pardon crave.

He’d frankly said at Windsor Castle
The Earl of Lichfield’s land
Contained a freak, a Bald Buck rascal.
Pleasing all the courtly band.

The reason for this conduct,
Which seemed so out of bounds,
The George who ruled the country
Sought for here around

Also from the forest
Whence Robin Hood had come-
The Royal Oaks rocked with laughter
At what the King had done

He’d come one day with Greyhound bay
Horse and Jockey colours gay,
Ere long he saw the ghastly freak
The reason of his son’s outbreak

So all, who knew the Fountain head
Of our Britannia’s shore
Could never hope for laurel green
Hunting Swan or else the boar.

As fierce Red Lion, his anger grew,
And in his rage he swore,
His Constitution could not stand
His heart in great uproar.

That night, beneath the Hollybush.
With Rodney and with Smithfield
A duel was fought (and our sons are taught)
The one duel fought in Lichfield).

On one side stood the Old Crown
The hero of the tale,
And ‘cross the great Queen’s Head was seen
Like Angel, sad and pale.

‘Three Crowns I’ll stake, they won’t checkmate’
Was said by Anglesey,
And Gresley Arms were held aloft
(These never could agree)

The King’s Head man from rivals ran,
The father and the son;
Brave Duke of York was standing there
With Duke of Wellington.

Others, too, were there that day
Beneath the greenwood tree,
All Chequers of a bloody end,
Assistant hopes to be.

The Duke of Cambridge afterwards
Most thoroughly agreed
The Scale ne’er turned, nor honour burned
By foul or ugly deed

The nighttime fell and Malt Shovel
Ceased its plying hire
Carpenters’ Arms from work bench strayed
To pewters round the Turk’s Head fire.

The tenants of the land that night,
O’er Three Tuns, ‘neath the trees,
Spoke of duel and fighting
And many of Cross Keys

The Goat’s Head too, looked o’er the wall
Of cottage old and grey
Saw he the George and Dragon
Cross the Bridge at break of day

At night the Hen and Chickens
Made the Feathers fly;
One thought perhaps they visioned-
A Spread Eagle in the sky.

I leave the rest and how the test
Of rivals, youth and age.
And parentage – the end I leave
To fill another page.

So visions fill my thoughts,
Because I am a glutton
I long to see Hotel Trent Valley
So near Shoulder of Mutton

I’ve strayed far from the tale
The Sheriff told to me,
A Bridge I’ve built between the years
Of Lichfield’s memory.

Now Railway runs where duels were fought
Of which no book has ever taught
Ten bells ring out – Cathedral, keep
Guard over Lichfield while we sleep

To waken with a startling cry
The Sheriff has now said ‘Goodbye’
But satisfied I’ve made the test
At the Hen and Chickens find the best.

G W Gardner, Lichfield

Some of the pubs featured in the verse can be found amongst the old photos of Lichfield added to Flickr by Lichfield District Council GIS Manager Gareth Thomas. .

Robin Hood, Frog Lane. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Robin Hood, Frog Lane, Lichfield. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

Beer delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

You can see more of the photos here. Some are long gone, but Lichfield is still a great place for pubs. Just last Thursday, mid eighteenth century Angel Inn on Market Street re-opened, reverting back to its earlier name, after having been known as Samuels since the late 1970s. ‘Sammies’ may not have enjoyed the best reputation, but it’s still part of our history and it’s good to see the old sign, with its portrait of Dr Johnson, hanging on the wall. It seems only right to give our most famous poet and lexicographer the (much-quoted) last words on the subject of pubs – ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced by a good tavern or inn’.

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above!

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above! Autumn 2014

Update: I had a fascinating email from Mike Cooper (appropriate name!) who told me that his great grandfather (x4) bought the Three Tuns Estate in 1777 for the princely sum of £1100.00 pounds of which £700.00 was in the form of a mortgage. The estate covered the pub, its outbuildings and 22 acres of land. He bought the pub from the estate of one Fettiplace Nott Esq (splendid name!), former High Steward of Lichfield, who died on the 6th of June 1775 & who decreed in his will that the sale of the Three Tuns & other possessions were to pay off the gambling debts of his son who was also named Fettiplace Nott. Back in 1777,  Lichfield Racecourse, now where Whittington Golf course stands, was in full swing & where Fettiplace Nott Jnr was want to spend his spare time! On the 6th of May 1801 Thomas Cooper sold the land but not the pub to Henry, Earl of Uxbridge for the sum of £1498.5s. In February 1818, Thomas Cooper, who by then was in his eighties sells the Three Tuns to his son-in-law James Neville & his brother John Neville who then sell it to their younger brother Charles on November 27th 1818. Thomas Cooper died in Lichfield on the 28th January 1828 & is buried in the churchyard at St John’s Hammerwich.


I’m really grateful to Mike for providing this information on the early days of the Three Tuns. Mike – I owe you a drink when it re-opens!

Broken Record

The ‘Heritage at Risk’ register for 2014 was published by English Heritage today. The Register includes grade I and II* listed buildings, grade II listed buildings in London, and all listed places of worship, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and protected wreck sites assessed as being at risk.

There are eight entries from around the Lichfield District this year, including scheduled monuments at Alrewas, Elford, Fradley and Streethay, the Fazeley and Bonehill conservation area and three buildings, namely, the Angel Croft Hotel on Beacon Street, the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware and the old church tower at St John’s in Shenstone.

Angel Croft Railings

The Angel Croft Hotel has been deemed ‘At Risk’ for many years, but there is now a glimmer of hope that Lichfield’s fallen Angel may be saved. This year’s entry notes that, ‘permission has been granted for conversion to apartments with an agreement to secure the repair of the gates and railings. Work should start in the summer’. Time will tell, but I really do hope that 2014 will be the last time that the Angel Croft appears on the register.

Whilst the plight of the decaying Angel Croft is well known in Lichfield, other local entries on the list may be less familiar, but no less worthy of salvation. Fazeley, according to Lichfield District Council, ‘represents a remarkably intact industrial community of the period 1790-1850. It contains all the principle building types necessary to sustain the community; terraced housing, mills, factories, a church, a chapel, public houses, a school and prestigious detached Georgian houses’. They go on to say that, ‘the waterways, pools and associated structures built by Robert Peel Snr are an important part of Fazeley’s industrial heritage and have archaeological significance. Their significance extends beyond just the immediate locality as they represent one of the most important water power systems dating from the early part of the Industrial Revolution. As a contrast to Fazeley’s industrial heritage, the appraisal tell us that, ‘the historic hamlet of Bonehill…. is an important remnant of the areas agricultural past and despite the developments of the twentieth century still retains a peaceful, rural feel. It has a direct association with the nationally renowned Peel family’.

Yesterday, Gareth Thomas, GIS Manager at Lichfield District Council, uploaded a number of photos from their archive to Flickr. It just so happens that alongside the reminiscence-tastic images of Lichfield shops and businesses, Gareth has uploaded a number of photographs of the conservation area at Fazeley and Bonehill, showing us just what is at risk here, hopefully inspiring us to pay a visit ourselves.

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Also making an appearance in both the Lichfield District Council’s photo collection and on the ‘At Risk’ Register, is the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware. The pictures speak for themselves – the condition of watchtower is so bad that it is deemed at risk of collapse. Perhaps appropriately for something that may not be long for this world, I first caught sight of it from the churchyard of St Michael’s and All Angels and managed to find out a little about its history here.

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

That’s quite a crack! Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Hamstall Ridware manor 3 Hamstall Ridware manor and church

Over in Shenstone, it seems there are ongoing discussions between the council, the Parish Council and the church regarding the old tower. At least for the time being, the structure is ‘considered stable’ – let’s hope that they all start singing from the same hymn sheet soon.

Old tower at St John's Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Old tower at St John’s Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Same time, same places next year folks? Let’s hope not…



Thanks to Gareth Thomas and Lichfield District Council for the archived photos of Fazeley and Hamstall Ridware, and to Jason Kirkham for his photograph of the old tower of St John’s at Shenstone.

Prior Engagement

Yesterday, I visited Hawkesyard, a place known to previous generations by a variety of names including Le Hawkeserd in Hondesacre, Armitage Park, Spode House and Hawkesyard Priory. The first house known to have existed here was a moated manor owned by the Rugeley Family, who appear to have had a variety of spellings for their own name. According to an article in the Lichfield Mercury on February 3rd 1950,  a document describing the funeral of Richard Rugeley, who, ‘…departed this mortal and transitory life on Saturday night, the 5th July 1623 at his house at Hawkesyard’, was signed by Symn Ruggeley, Thirkell Rugeley, Henry Rugley and Thomas Rugsley.

Information on the early days of Hawkesyard is sketchy but it’s thought the original hall, pulled down in 1665, was much closer to the River Trent, about half a mile to the west of Armitage Church. Nothing is thought to remain and nothing much more is known about Hawkesyard until 1760, when the estate was renamed ‘Armitage Park’ by Nathaniel Lister, who built a gothic style mansion on the sandstone hill above the site of the original hall. Beneath Lister’s new house was a plaque recording that, ‘These cellars were cut out of the rock by Richard Benton and Sons, anno Domini 1760, for Nathaniel Lister, Esq.’ Perhaps it’s still there?

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

From the 1840s, Hawkesyard was home to Mary Spode and her son Josiah, the fourth generation of the Stoke on Trent pottery dynasty, and the first not to work in the family business. Mary died in 1860, and Josiah’s wife Helen died eight years later. Both are buried at St John the Baptist in Armitage, the Anglican parish church where Josiah was the organ player and warden. Despite these strong links to St John’s, Josiah Spode converted to Catholicism in 1885, along with his niece Helen Gulson, who lived with him at Hawkesyard. On his death in 1893, Spode requested that Helen should continue to live at Hawkesyard until her death, after which the estate should be passed to the English Dominican Order of Friars. However, Helen decided to move out of the hall and into a cottage on the estate, allowing work on the new Priory and Church to begin almost immediately. Some say that this decision was inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to Helen in the grounds of the estate, and that the altar of the new Priory Church of St Thomas Aquinas was supposedly erected over the site of this apparition.

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by JAson Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jaosn Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

The Dominicans left Hawkesyard in 1988, but their benefactors and some of their brethren remain. Josiah Spode and Helen Gulson are interred in a small chapel within the Priory Church, and outside in the gardens, are the simple concrete crosses marking the graves of monks.

Monks' Cemetery, Hawkesyard

Monks’ Cemetery, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

As beautiful as the church is, it’s the gardens at Hawkesyard with their subterranean features, which have captured my imagination. They appear to have had the same effect on this reporter from the Lichfield Mercury, who visited in the Summer of 1935, and wrote the following description:

Down weather-worn and feet-worn steps, through charming little rockery glades, rich with lichens, ferns and its more wild brother – bracken- time and nature has made this wonderful spot more beautiful in its wildness. Some pathways lead down through fine old arches, gloriously hewn or erected deep into the bowels of the earth, or so it appeared; while others lead gradually upwards through narrow passages. Opening into a small glade we suddenly came across the entrance to the well-known underground passage which, descending steeply, rises just as abruptly in another part of the rockery, far remote from each other. Today this passage is awesome in appearance, the ground underfoot being feet deep with decaying leaves, and only the most venturesome pass out of the light of day into its unknown blackness. It was a curious and certainly thrilling experience to traverse this maze of paths. Another similar grotto housed a large shelter, carved in stone and the actual rock; a sort of summerhouse with a double archway entrance. In another we discovered some beautiful carving in white stone of three saintly figures, obviously beautifully carved, but decaying and rotting with age. We could not discover their identity or purpose, although they surmounted what could easily have been a small natural altar, secluded in the quiet of this wonderful grotto.

Eighty years later, there are no saints to be found in this wild part of Hawkesyard. Time and nature have now ravaged its beauty but have not diminished its curiosity. Several theories exist as to who carved these grottos and tunnels out of the rock and why, but as an investigation into the overgrown site in the mid 1990s concluded, ‘the function of all the above is not clear’. Any ideas?

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham



Photos by Jason Kirkham

Hawkesyard, Armitage, Staffordshire: A Documentary and Field Assessment. Chris Welch

Staffordshire Parks and Gardens Register Review (1993-96). Parts I and II. Staffordshire County Council

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Bad Neighbours

Legend has it that in July 1403, two feuding neighbours from opposite sides of the River Trent set out to fight on opposite sides at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Sir William Handsacre was for the rebel Sir Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy and loyal to King Henry IV was Sir Robert Mavesyn, whose name was said to derive from the French malvoisin meaning ‘dangerous neighbour’. At Bridge Meadow, near to the site of High Bridge, it’s believed that the paths of the two enemies crossed, as did their swords. Living up to his name, Mavesyn killed Handsacre but his victory was short-lived and he met his end at the Battle of Shrewsbury, ‘standing with the King and fighting by his side even unto death’, if the epitaph on his tombstone in the church of St Nicholas at Mavesyn Ridware is to be believed.

The church dates to the mid-twelfth century and stands near to the site of the manor house, which Sir Robert would have once called home. The medieval house was replaced in the early eighteenth century by what William Pitt described in 1817 as, ‘a convenient box, pleasantly situated for a summer residence’. However, still in existence and visible from the churchyard is the ancient timber framed gatehouse, built using trees felled in late 1391 or before the spring of 1392, according to dendrochronology.


The Church of St Nicholas, Mavesyn Ridware

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, seen from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The final resting place of Sir William is unknown but in 1866, William Painter of The Red Lion Inn at Handsacre wrote a letter on the matter to George Griffith, author of ‘The Two Houses: A Staffordshire Tragedy’, a dramatic work based on the events of 1403. According to Mr Painter, when the church of St John the Baptist in Armitage was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century, a stone coffin was discovered in the north wall. Inside was a skeleton, with a full set of teeth and a sword. Local tradition had it that these were the mortal remains of Sir William Handsacre. (1)

In 1972, Sir William must have turned in his grave (whether in St John’s or elsewhere) when vandals destroyed much of his former home, Handsacre Hall. In a bid to preserve what remained, I understand that the surviving fragments were moved to Avoncroft Museum in Bromsgrove, where again dendrochronology was used to date the timbers, giving a suggested date of around 1310, with some reused timbers from an earlier hall. According to the report by the Staffordshire Archaeological Society, the house had been derelict for at least six years prior to this and a photograph of the building taken around this time can be found on Staffordshire Past Track here. In its heyday it looked like this.  


Information board at the site of Handsacre Hall

Nowadays the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, still surrounded by a moat, ten metres wide and four feet deep, but also by a housing estate. It’s said that on the island in the centre there are visible brick and sandstone remains and no doubt there is plenty of evidence of past lives at the hall below ground. Visiting in high summer, the only thing I could see (and feel unfortunately), were stinging nettles. Will be interesting to see what a return visit in winter will reveal.

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall. And nettles. Lots of nettles…


Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Volume XV Transactionf for 1973/4 – Stanley R. Jones Handsacre Hall, Armitage: a note on its destruction

Staffordshire HER 09638

Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300 – 1500: Volume 2 by Anthony Emery

A topographical history of Staffordshire by William Pitt.

Well Wishers

Last week, a group of us took in the waters at St Chad’s Well as part of a Lichfield Myths and Legends cycle tour organised by James of Lichwheeld. I’ve written previously about how the appearance (and apparently, the actual location!) of the well has changed over the years here, but I’ve recently found some contemporary accounts of the well’s previous incarnation – a ‘vertical tube built of engineering bricks, covered with a kind of gloomy sentry-box of stone’, which had apparently become so neglected in the 1940s that only a few inches of stagnant water covered in a green scum remained in the bottom of the pool. (1)

On the legends trail at St Chad's Well. Photo by Lichwheeld

On the legends trail at St Chad’s Well. Photo by Lichwheeld

In November 1946, the Bishop of Stafford lamented that the well had once been a place of great pilgrimage but had fallen into a state of neglect and considerable disrepair and in April 1948, E Sutton, a former caretaker of the well, described it as having degenerated into a wishing well. A few weeks later, Mr Sutton submitted a further letter to the Mercury, advising, ‘I have again visited the site and found it in a worse state than on my visit there last Autumn. Then boards covered the Well. These are now removed and the Well is full of rubbish, among brick-bats and wood being a worn out coal bag! I noticed too, among the bricks and stonework lying around in wild confusion the ancient ‘St Chad’s Stone’, which the historian Leland, writing of his visit to the Well some four hundred years ago, states was then believed to be the very stone upon St Chad stood in the icy water as an act of penance, it then being the bottom of the Well. When the small building was erected over the Well in Stuart times, this stone was incorporated into the building, no doubt in order to preserve it. Many hundreds of hands have been placed upon it, mostly with reverence, since. It now lies among the rubbish, one corner broken. A fitting symbol of the ideals of 1948!’ (2)

St Chads Well

St Chad’s Well today

Saint Chad's c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

Saint Chad’s Well c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

I’m intrigued by this reference to ‘the ancient St Chad’s stone’. When James Rawson described the site prior to his restoration in the 1830s, he noted that, ‘the well-basin had become filled up with mud and filth; and on top of this impurity a stone had been placed, which was described as the identical stone on which Saint Chad used to kneel and pray!’. Despite Rawson’s apparent scepticism about these claims, was he somehow persuaded to use this stone in his new well structure, thereby perpetuating the myth? I’d love to see what went on in those discussions and I’d really like to know what happened to this legendary stone. St Chad may not have been anywhere near it, but the fact that people believed he had should have made it worth saving for posterity’s sake.

Water in the well

Water in the well

Unfortunately for Mr Sutton, the restoration of the well did not put a stop to people using St Chad’s Well for wishes, as evidenced by the layer of coins that still glint beneath the water, tossed in at some point over the last half century or so. It’s often suggested that this is the continuation of a ritual that our ancestors were carrying out a long, long time before St Chad arrived in Lichfield. Some things change. Some stay the same.


(1) The octagonal stone well structure erected by Rawson in the 1830s, as described by the Lichfield Mercury on May 6th 1949!

(2) A little off topic, but it’s amusing to see that it’s not just nowadays that letters appear in the Lichfield Mercury suggesting that society is going to hell in a handcart. Once again, some things stay the same…


I first heard of the crypt beneath St Editha’s in Tamworth town centre a couple of years back when Mark from Tamworth Time Hikes visited and wrote about the place (see here). A recent article in the Tamworth Herald reminded me of its existence and so with an hour or so to kill in the town before an appointment, I went to take a look for myself.

St Editha's from Tamworth Castle

St Editha’s from Tamworth Castle

Exisiting stonework shows that the church dates back to at least 1080 but it’s thought the Normans may have built on the site of an existing Saxon church. It’s a wonderful mixture of architectural styles, with some beautiful stained glass and monuments to the great and good (and probably not so good) of Tamworth, plus a rare double spiral staircase in the tower. However, with only limited time, all of these wonders would have to wait for another day as I wanted to focus on the crypt.


In the 1860s, the entrance was apparently down through a trap door and along a narrow passage. These days the crypt is reached via a flight of steps, making it far more accessible, but perhaps a little less atmospheric, especially as what looks like a Mothercare stairgate has been installed to prevent people tumbling to their doom.  Rightly or wrongly, I’m not the sort of woman who goes around opening stairgates without first seeking permission and so I went over to the bookshop to ask.  Here, I got a little distracted from the task in hand and ended up buying a book on ‘The Castles and Moated Mansions of Staffordshire’ (within which I’m sure lie the beginnings of many future wanderings) but soon got back on track and asked about going down into the crypt. Luckily for me, the church guide was sat in a nearby pew reading a newspaper and he offered to take me down there and tell me all about its history.


One theory is that seven hundred years ago the crypt was part of a stand alone chapel, that may even have been Saxon in origin. At some point in the fourteenth century it was incorporated into the main church. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it started to be used as a charnel house to accommodate the old bones that were disturbed when new graves were being dug in the churchyard. This remained its purpose until 1869, when the crypt was needed to house a boiler and the bones were returned to the churchyard, reburied in the north east corner. I nearly fell off my plastic chair when we were told that there was a plague pit beneath our feet and coffin lids in the roof above our heads, including one thought to have belonged to a crusader and on which faint carvings can still be seen.

You can just about make out the carvings on what is said to be the stone coffin lid of a crusader

You can just about make out the carvings on what is said to be the stone coffin lid of a crusader

I’m assuming the coffins themselves were destroyed during the Victorian renovations, although one does survive in the main body of the church, near the entrance to the Comberford chapel.

One of the stone coffins can now be found outside the Comberford chapel

One of the stone coffins can now be found outside the Comberford chapel

When Mark wrote about the crypt he included this brilliant drawing of it from a Victorian account of Tamworth by Charles Ferrers Raymund Palmer.

According to Ferrers, when he entered the crypt, the bones were stacked up in very regular order and occupied the whole of the east end, where local folklore had it that a passageway ran from here to the Castle. In trying to find this passageway, Ferrers says he made a path through the bones by ‘carefully piling them aside’ but found ‘nothing there, except the remains of the ancient altar; the stone slab of which is gone’. He was unable to examine the floor at the base of the altar as there was nowhere to store the bones, which were ‘so rotten, that they crumbled to pieces beneath our feet’ as ‘in spite of all our efforts, they returned to our feet, and their dull clatter seemed a reproach to us, for disturbing their long and quiet repose in the sacred place’.

Ferrers is clearly made out of sterner stuff than me. Stood in near darkness with the bones of ancient Tamworthians rolling around his feet he even stayed down the crypt long enough to examine an ancient Latin inscription on the wall. Still visible today, the verse is thought to date back to the fourteenth century and is now protected by glass. Apparently it translates as:

O Lord of wealth and power
Thou shalt not live for evermore
Do well whilst life thou hast
If thou should live when death is past


Crypt Tamworth


All the guide wanted in return for his time and knowledge, was a comment in the visitor book. So, if you ever go, and I really hope you do because it’s such an incredible place, don’t forget to sign it on the way out (you may notice a comment from a very enthusiastic and delighted Kate Gomez of Lichfield…)


The history of the town and castle of Tamworth by Charles Ferrers Raymund Palmer

A Short History and Tour of St Editha’s Church, Tamworth by Stan T Parry