Starry Eyed

Walking through Leomansley Wood (or was it Sloppy Wood? I’m never sure where one stops and the other starts), I came across hundreds of wood anemones growing alongside Leomansley Brook. Up until now, I can only ever remember seeing two small patches of these pretty star like flowers – one near to the path that skirts the edge of the woods and the other near to the old mill culvert on Pipe Green.  As they are growing in one of the muddier areas of the woods (actually it was probably Sloppy Wood!), it may be that I’ve always missed them, having turned off to find a drier route. At the risk of sounding like one of the motivational sayings people share on Facebook, it just shows that sometimes it’s worth persevering with the trickier path!

Anemones in Leomansley

As well as their obvious beauty, the thing I love about wildflowers is their associated folklore and their alternative names. Nicholas Culpeper tells me that the anemome, “is called the windflower because they say the flowers never open unless the wind bloweth”. Wet weather has the opposite effect, and the flower also closes as night falls, giving rise to the story that fairies use anemones both as somewhere to shelter from the rain, and somewhere to sleep, tucked beneath the petals.

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For superstitious folk, I imagine that disturbing sleeping fairies was probably best avoided and may be why it’s generally considered unlucky to pick the plant, especially here in Staffordshire. According to Roy Vickery,  the wood anemone was known as ‘thunderbolt’ in the county, because, as as the name suggests, picking it would result in a storm. Mr Vickery also relays the experience of the Rev E Deacon, a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1930.  One day, Deacon arrived at a farm where a wedding party was taking place. Apparently, the expression of the smiling person who opened the door changed to one of alarm when he or she realised that Mr Deacon had brought bad luck to the wedding in the form of a wood anemone in his lapel.

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Along with several other species, including bluebells which are just starting to appear, anemones are indicator species of ancient woodland i.e. one which has been around since 1600AD. The way I understand it, their presence in Leomansley Wood isn’t proof that it is an ancient woodland (or more accurately, a replanted ancient woodland, where the area has been continuously wooded but trees have been felled and replanted), but a suggestion that it might be. Ancient or not, it’s always a beautiful place for a walk but especially at this time of year.

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Edit: you know how in Finding Nemo, he can’t say anemone? Well ‘m having trouble spelling it – anemone, that’s right isn’t it?

Sources:

Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore

An Inconstant Stream

According to place name expert Margaret Gelling, Leomansley Brook has a pre-English name. It’s thought the name could contain the Celtic word lēmo, meaning ‘elm’ (1) or lēme meaning ‘limetree’ (2).

1- Conduit Heads; 2 – Start of Leomansley Brook?; 3 Site of Leomansley Mill/House/Manor; 4 – Former Beacon Place fishponds, now Beacon Park boating lake

The brook rises near to the conduit heads at Pipe Hall Farm, Burntwood (at a place I’ve just noticed was also known as The Dimbles, just as the area near to the Circuit Brook is/was!), and crosses the Lichfield/Burntwood boundary, to fill a series of pools on the edge of Leomansley/Sloppy Wood before meandering through Pipe Green.

As mentioned in my previous post, Leamonsley Mill was built on the brook at the edge of Pipe Green in the 1790s. There are a few traces of the industry that was once here – ‘Leomansley Mill Cottage’ is a little further back down the track towards Christ Church Lane and there are also some possibly related brick structures. The second photo shows the place where the brook re-emerges to flow through Pipe Green, and is shown on some maps from the late 19th and early 20th century as a ‘Spout’.

Taken June 2011. On old maps, this is marked as sluice. This part of the watercourse was filled with water once again this weekend

Taken December 2010. Shows as spout on old maps.

I found a recollection by someone who spent the summer of 1984 at the old mill cottages then known as Leomansley House (which they have included a photo of!) producing the first and only issue of what they describe as a ‘local anarcho-DIY philosophy magazine’. In their description of the old house, they describe how Leomansley Brook ran past the front door.

The other stories I’ve found about the pool relate to changes brought about by nature. In February 1902, the frozen pool was used for ice skating.  The Lichfield Mercury reported that on the Friday after the freeze, the pool was quiet, but by Saturday a group of ‘horrid hockey people’ (as one unnamed woman described them) had discovered it and monopolised the best part of the pool.

Another Mercury story, from April 1976 when the artist Eilidh Armour Brown lived at Leomansley House, tells of a water shortage at the pool

Lichfield District Council Staff had been prepared to move fish from Leomansley Pool, after the water levels dropped to a dangerous level for the fish. The fish were to be transferred to Minster Pool until the water level at Leomansley had risen. Luckily a storm that weekend brought the much needed rain and it was no longer necessary.

Things couldn’t have been more different this weekend. The normally dry part of the course along the edge of the woods was full, and levels in the pools were high, as you’d expect.

Taken November 2012. This part of the brook is normally dry.

Taken November 2012. I was told there used to be a bridge somewhere near here for farm carts to cross into the adjacent field.

Taken November 2012

As you can see in the above photo, not only was the brook refilled,  but the water was also claiming parts of the path. I imagine that’s how the name Sloppy Wood came about!

From Pipe Green, the brook is culverted under the A51, and then flows through Beacon Park, filling what used to be the fishponds for Beacon Place (now the boating lake in the park), before finally ending up at Minster Pool.

November 2012 – Through Pipe Green

 

November 2012 – Looking back towards Leomansley House/Mill/Manor!

June 2012 – Leomansley Brook enters Beacon Park via a culvert under the A51. The reason the water looks murky by the pipe is that a little dog was paddling just before I took the photo!

June 2012 – Passing the play area in Beacon Park. This used to be a fish pond for the mansion Beacon Place (demolished 1964).

I don’t know anywhere near as much about streams and brooks as I’d like to but am really interested in them and their importance in the development of our landscape, e.g., the formation of natural boundaries and giving names to places that grew up along them. I’m also fascinated by our relationship with watercourses like these and our attempts to manage them, for better or for worse.

Sources

(1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.

(2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

The Mill’s Tale

When I first moved to Lichfield, the building at the end of the track leading through Leomansley Woods was a derelict shell.  Intrigued, I looked into the history of the area and found out that it was probably related to a fulling mill that had been built there in 1791 by John Hartwell, on the edge of the Pipe Green trust land  (you can read more about this beautiful part of Lichfield on the Trust’s website here).

The OS map from 1815 shows a ‘Cotton Mill’ in that area.  Later maps refer to it as Leamonsley Mill. (In fact, the spelling of the name of the mill, and the area has changed several times. Variations include Lemmonsly, Leamonsley, Lemonsley, Lemondsley and in recent years, the name seems to have settled at Leomansley!).

This is the only image of Leomansley Mill I know of. It’s a trade token showing Leomansley Mill at the time of John Henrickson. Although the token isn’t dated, we can work out roughly that it must date to between 1809 and 1815 – the county history tells us that Mary Hartwell, widow of John Hartwell, let Leamonsley Mill together with a warehouse and weaving shop on Lombard St in 1809, and the following notice in the London Gazette tells us that Mr Henrickson, who is named on the token, went bankrupt in 1815.

To be sold by auction, by order of the major part of the Commissioners named and authorised in and by a Commission of Bankrupt against John Henrickson, of the City of Lichfield, Cotton-Spinner, at the Three Crowns Inn, in Lichfield aforesaid, on Monday the 18th day of March instant, between the hours of Three and Six o’Clock in the Afternoon, either together or in lots, as may be agreed upon at the time of sale;
All the machinery, mills, spindles, bobbins, winding frames, warping-mills, looms, shuttles, and other apparatus, suitable for carrying on an extensive trade in the Cotton Spinning and Calico-Weaving business, now standing in Lemmonsley-Mill and Lombard-Street-Factory, in the said City of Lichfield, late the effects of the said Bankrupt. The machinery and implements are all nearly new, and in excellent condition, and may be viewed by applying to Mr. Palmer, of Mr. Rutter, of Lichfield aforesaid, the Assignees of the said Bankrupt;and further particulars may be had at the Office of Mr. Foster, Solicitor, Rugeley, Staffordshire.

Reproduced from Lichfield District Council flickr stream

Recently, I found a newspaper notice of the sale by auction at The George Hotel on 24th May 1833, giving another detailed description of the mill.

‘A valuable watermill called Leamonsley Mill with a large Head of Water and Appurtenance, situated at Leamonsley near the city of Lichfield, formerly erected as a Fulling Mill, but lately re-built four stories high, and now in work and used for spinning hosiery and knitting yarn for the Leicester and other markets. Power to any extent may be added by erecting steam, being on the road from the Brownhill Colliery. Also. a right of four inches of top water from the pool of John Atkinson of Maple Hayes, covering about six acres of ground; with a good dwelling house, garden. land, combing shop and premises occupied therewith, late in lease to Thomas Leach.

It seems that the new owner, did decide to add steam power, as an 1860 newspaper carries an advert for,

Leamonsley Mill, within one mile of the City of Lichfield. Woollen Machinery, Water Wheel, Steam Engines. Messrs C and H Gillard are instructed to sell by auction on Monday 30th July 1860, on the premises,
The Machinery and Plant of the above Mill, for spinning floss or fleecy wool, comprising spinning frames, roving and doubling machines, a very  capital overshot or breast water wheel, constructed of iron. An excellent noncondensing or high pressure steam-engine, 2 feet stroke, of about 8 horse power, with beam, fly wheel, and governor and steam boiler, together with the shafting, as recently in use. Also, a capital brass lift and force pump, with lever on plank, quantity lead pipe.
This whole lot to be sold in several lots, as appear in catalogues, in consequence of the building being required for other purposes

And yes, I am trying to locate a ‘Glossary of Mill terminology’ to work out what half of those things are!  I wonder if the sale was related to the bankruptcy of James Johnson of Lemonsley Mill in January 1858, as notified in the London and Edinburgh Gazettes? The fact the building was ‘being required for other purposes’ is an interesting one…by 1884, ‘Leamonsley Cottages’ are shown in the place where the mill once was. I believe that by this time, it had become part of the Maple Hayes estate, and the cottages were used to house some of its workers. I’d like to know more about the state of this industry to discover why more than one bankruptcy featured in the history of the mill, and also why in 1860, a working mill was abandoned in preference of using the building as accommodation for servants?

I find it hard to imagine Leomansley as a place of industry, but it’s why the area developed in the early 19th century.  A while back I did a post about how the 1841 census showed that many residents seemed to have been employed by the mill.

Of course, whilst the area of Leomansley grew up around the mill, the mill presumably was there as a result of Leomansley Brook. And Leomansley Brook deserves a post of its very own….

Sources:

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131

Tree following: White Heat

“No, I can’t come out with you, I’m supposed to be working”. ”You know you want to… I’m only going to be around for the next few days and then I don’t know when I’ll be back in Lichfield again”. ”Oh, go on then…..”

Yes, my old friend summer is back in town, and so I went to see how my tree that I follow on the path from Leomansley Wood to Pipe Green is getting on. To be honest I’m now following pretty much the whole path, so the tree doesn’t get that much of a look in these days. I’m sure it’ll come in to its own as the seasons progress though!

It was a delight for most of the senses.  Birdsong and drumming woodpeckers, butterflies and an abundance of mostly white flowers along the floor and hedgerows, the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze and the shade of the trees and of course the scent of early summer in the air. Taste is the only one that eluded me on my walk (although I’m sure there were probably some wild goodies I could have tried if I was both more knowledgeable and brave about these things). I think my tea & cake when I got home might just about count though.

Tree following: …..bring May flowers

Leomansley Woods are lovely all year round but within the next few weeks they will be at the peak of their beauty. Well, I think so. You’ll have to visit and see if you agree.

There’s just a smattering at the moment, but soon the bluebells will fill the gaps between the trees and paint the woodland floor with their colour.

Getting bluer by the day

I could put a photo on here from last year but why spoil the anticipation? It’s not long to wait now! In the meantime there’s plenty more going on of interest, although I confess I’m not always sure what exactly. I’m still fumbling my way through with a variety of Woodland Trust swatch books and a junior nature guide but I am learning slowly. I’ve realised that trying to identify the plants from photographs is not the way to do it. Clearly, it’s a bit tricky to see if the leaves smell of anything (for example, according to my book, hemlock has ‘the strong smell of mice’!) and it’s hard to see other subtle details from a photograph too.

I know these are tulips.....

Fungus

This is some kind of fungus......

No idea???

 

No idea part 2????

The dandelions had closed up due to the rain (or maybe they’ were hiding, having heard of my plans to turn them into marmalade……).

Not so dandy

Elsewhere along the lane, other plants were still showing evidence of the last downpour.

Raindrops on leaves

The tree itself now has buds and I’m pretty sure that it is an oak. The path running past the tree goes past Leomansley House/Manor and leads to Pipe Green. Pipe Green is a wonderful area of meadowland managed by a trust and they have an equally wonderful website with details of all the birds, plants and animals you might spot whilst you are there. Have a look at the website here and then go and visit! I’m going to go and see if I can spot the wood anemones.

Oak Aged

Galls & Buds come out to play

Following the sale of the Maple Hayes Estate, to which it belongs, Leomansley Wood now has a new owner. Let’s hope that it will now be cared for and managed as well as it should be.

 

 

Tree following: April Showers…..

It was time to revisit my tree on the lane next to Christ Church.  

Now I think it might be a horse chestnut.

I managed to dodge the heavy showers that had been falling on and off all day, but there was plenty of evidence of them. The air had an earthy smell and looking back towards Christchurch Lane from the A51 end, I noticed the reflection of the trees in the puddles. I’m not sure whether the onion ring crisp spillage adds to or detracts from the scene.

Soggy Crisps

I bet that the crisps were an after school snack, dropped in the haste to get get home before the next shower, but I wonder how these flowers came to be here? From the nearby churchyard perhaps?

Discarded flowers

 It was good to see some new arrivals along the lane.

 

 

This reminds me. How are those bluebells in Leomansley Woods coming along?

Wood Work

This week started with a brand new orchard and ended with an ancient woodland.

Last weekend, I helped to plant cider trees at Woodhouse Community Farm in Fisherwick. It wasn’t just the potential liquid reward that got me out of bed on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, there were a couple of other reasons!

It's got a lot of potential....

 

Orchards are becoming a rare habitat – according to Natural England, it’s estimated that the overall orchard area in England has declined by 63% since 1950. A traditional orchard can support around 1,800 species of wildlife. Although it will clearly take a while for the new cider orchard to reach this stage, I’m hoping that it will help to redress the balance a little bit! The People’s Trust for Endangered Species recently created an inventory of the traditional orchards in England, and you can read the summary of their findings for Staffordshire here.

Being involved with the orchard will also give me an opportunity to learn something about some disappearing traditional skills and knowhow. Growing fruit trees is a fascinating business, although I clearly have much to learn as I was the only person whose tree had to be dug up and replanted. Hopefully I’ll be better at the cider making bit, but if not, there’s always the cider drinking part which I’m fairly confident about.

In contrast to this budding orchard, on Friday I found myself amongst much older trees. Merrion’s Wood is a lovely nature reserve, just outside Walsall town centre and looked after by Walsall Countryside Services. Bluebells are already starting to shoot up all over there and countryside ranger Morgan told me that these plants were an indicator of ancient woodland, along with several other species.

Ancient Woodland in Leomansley

Leomansley Wood is full of bluebells in springtime. An interactive map of habitats from DEFRA confirms it as ‘ancient replanted woodland’. This means that although the site has been continuously wooded since 1600 (at least), the trees are more recent. It’s interesting that the place name is thought to include the celtic element ‘lemo’, meaning an elm (1) or possibly ‘leme’, lime tree.  The ‘-ley’ suffix is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon ‘leah’ meaning ‘clearing’ (2).

I think that to find a nearby semi natural ancient woodland, you need to visit Hopwas Woods near Whittington Barracks.  I should probably do this myself at some point! It’s worth pointing out that only 1.2% of the UK is made up of this kind of habitat and that it is irreplaceable. (3)

The DEFRA map also shows a traditional orchard between Maple Hayes and Jubilee Wood (where the conduits are!) with several others around Burntwood and Chorley. Perhaps even more interestingly, it seems there are two patches of traditional orchard in a built up residential area of Lichfield. I don’t know if I should say where, it might encourage scrumping!

I’ve also noticed several apple trees growing alongside the A51. How did these get here – discarded apple cores from car windows or remnants of something else? Perhaps more importantly, can I use these to make cider? ;)

Footnotes:

Don’t just take my work for how brilliant Woodhouse Community Farm is! There is a snowdrop walk on Sunday 5th February at 10.30am, where you can also see some of the things they have planned for the future.

The Woodland Trust point out that although many ancient woodlands have been recorded on inventories, there may also be unidentified fragments out there. Although bluebells don’t always indicate ancient woodland, if you do spot any growing this spring it might be worth having a closer look to see what else is around! The Woodland Trust have a really interesting guide to ancient woodland that you can read by clicking here.

Sources:

1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.
 2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

(3)http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1437