Shiver Me Timbers

Where there’s an old wooden beam, there’s often a rumour that it originated on an old ship. It’s a bit of folklore that I keep encountering time and time again, even here in landlocked Lichfield and Staffordshire. Back in 2011, I visited St John’s Hospital during the Lichfield Heritage Weekend and heard that the Master’s House, which was originally the canons’ and pilgrims’ hall and enlarged by Bishop Smythe in the late fifteenth century, was built using beams from galleons. On the ghost tour earlier this month, we were told that that wooden beams in an entry running alongside the Walter Smith butcher shop on Market Street came from old ships and when researching the Four Crosses Inn in Cannock for a piece in the Chase Gazette, I once again came across claims that the oldest part the building, dating to 1636, made use of timber from ships.

Alongside butcher shop on Market St. Beams are covered in stripy plastic on this photo unfortunately, but every now and again the alley is open for you to go and take a look...

Alongside butcher shop on Market St. Beams are covered in stripy plastic on this photo unfortunately, but every now and again the alley is open for you to go and take a look…

Last night, a discussion on Twitter about those other two old inn regulars – ghosts and Dick Turpin – moved onto the subject on the use of old ships’ beams and a quick google search revealed yet more old Midlands buildings making the claim including the Ye Olde Gate Inn in the Derbyshire village of Brassington and the appropriately named Old Ship Inn in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Could there be any truth in any of these claims? As someone unfamiliar with the world of carpentry, I was interested to read a discussion between some experts on the matter which you can read here. Just as I was sure that this myth was pretty much busted I clicked on the link in the penultimate comment, which took me here - a website telling the story of the lost Brig Elizabeth Jane, launched in Nova Scotia in 1817 and abandoned off the Yorkshire coast in 1854. Incredibly, the name board and the port of registration board were discovered in a ceiling in Robin Hood’s Bay in 2003 leaving no doubt that this was one case where the rumours were true.

A one off perhaps? It seems not as shortly aftewards I came across the website of the Chesapeake Mill in Hampshire, where the beams, joists and floors are all said to have been constructed from the United States frigate ‘The Chesapeake’. On a slightly gory note, an extract from ‘The Navy and Army Illustrated’ in 1898, included on the  mill’s website, describes the joists as ‘covered with the blood of the men who were killed and wounded in action, and many bullets are embedded in them; in fact a good many of the timbers seem quite soaked with blood’.  You should read the full story on their website here it’s a fascinating place!

Closer to home, I found an article on Graiseley Old Hall in Wolverhampton which says that some of the purlins (now there’s a word I didn’t know existed until today!) in the roof came from old ships. What’s also interesting about this article is that it acknowledges that similar claims are made about many buildings, but that hard evidence to support it only exists in a few and then gives us a possible explanation for this, suggesting that often it could be a reference to the quality of the timber rather than where it came from.

I’d really like to hear of any more examples that people know of where old ships timbers are said to have been used, proved or otherwise.  When it comes to myths and folklore, we shouldn’t always believe everything we hear, but we should definitely listen in the first place. You never know where a story will lead.

 

 

 

Business Study

I spent the morning with Dave and Angie Gallagher, who are doing a brilliant job of taking the ever growing collection of old photographs out and about into the city, encouraging people to share their stories and memories about Lichfield. I had a great time listening to people reminisce about how Lichfield used to be in days gone by and it’s put me well and truly in the mood to share more of Mr JW Jackson’s memories of the city’s shops and trades back when he was a young boy in the 1870s.

For obvious reasons, I thought this shop, now a bookies, might be Mr Welch’s fish and poultry shop?

Mr Jackson’s article begins with Sedgewick’s fried fish shop in Tamworth St, selling oysters, cockles, mussels, periwinkles, shrimps, bloaters and kippers. He also recalls H Welch’s fishmonger and poulterer’s business opening some years later on Tamworth St (Mr Jackson’s article was written in 1945 and he mentions that at that time Welch’s shop had been rebuilt as a ladies’ hair dressing saloon). Another fish shop was owned by James Clarke on Sandford St, and Mr Jackson recalls Mr Clarke with a ‘large, deep, circular basket suspended with a strap round his neck, filled with fried fish or oysters, shrimps and shellfish or at other times nuts and oranges, of which he found a ready sale in the public houses’. In his spare time, Mr Clarke was a groundsman and umpire for the Cricket Club on the Birmingham Rd.

The corner of Beacon St and Shaw Lane

Mr Jackson says that there were a large number of greengrocers in Lichfield, including Elkingston’s in Tamworth St (Wigham’s in 1945) and Tanner’s in Bird St (Perks’ Store in 1945). Adjoining Moss’s Entry on Bird St was Mr Walker’s grocery shop, and further down the road near to the King’s Head was Mr James’s grocers. On the corner of Shaw Lane and Beacon St was another grocers, a step below the pavement and old fashioned in appearance. Originally owned by Mr Hall, it was taken over by a Mr Warmington who rebuilt the old shop and added a bakery. Also on Beacon Street was Mrs Hague’s shop which apparently sold everything from ‘a needle to a sack of flour, including bread, sweets, etc’. The grocery business of old Dan Millington on Stowe Street, was particularly memorable due to the many tallow candles suspended from the ceiling.

Moss’s Entry, leading to Friars Alley is now between Green T and Lichfield Kebab shop.

Apparently, back in the 1870s, few people in Lichfield bought ready made shoes, preferring made to order footwear from places like Heath’s in Conduit St and Playfer’s in Market St (1). Mr Jackson remembers being measured for his own boots by Mr Brockhouse of Beacon St,  who lived in a small cottage opposite St Chad’s Rectory. Mr Hodges at the bottom of Beacon Hill (near Gaia Lane) had a shop which did ‘a large better class trade in boots and shoes made by himself on the premises’. Mr Jackson says there were also many cobblers who concentrated on repairs, including Tommy Lyons who lived in a small cottage in Gaia Lane and was described as a very religious man who could often be seen making his way to a meeting with his old well worn Bible.

I’m thinking we should all take a leaf out of Mr Jackson’s book and document our surroundings. This morning showed that the places we live and work in are continually evolving and it’s not until we stop and look back that we realise how much has changed (for better or for worse, depending on your point of view……).

Notes:

I found a photo of a shop called ‘Shakeshaft and Playfer’ on Market St, Lichfield thought to be from the 1860s on Staffs Past Track here. Is this the same Playfer? After zooming in it seems to be a men’s accessories shop – I can see ties and what look like straw boaters in the window! Also after zooming in, you can see the faces of three young people at the window, looking out onto the funeral procession below. I wonder whose funeral it was? Edit: Later, I found that Shakeshaft and Playfer were also undertakers, and arranged the 1894 funeral of George Fox of Elmhurst Hall amongst others, which would explain the photograph!

Sources:

Old Lichfield Trades and Tradesmen, J W Jackson, Lichfield Mercury, April 6th 1945

http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk

Trading Places

In June 1945, local historican Mr Jackson contributed an article to the Lichfield Mercury in which he shared his memories of the shops and businesses that surrounded him as a young boy growing up in the city during the 1870s. I’ve summarised the article below so settle yourself down with a bottle of herb beer and a bag of toffee nobs and have a read!

In Breadmarket St, Mr Bartlam had a tinsmith business and Mr Marshall ran a dairy in the premises next to the old watchmakers and jewellers owned by Mr Corfield. Mr Corfield’s shop burnt down in 1872 – a tragedy that resulted in the entire Corfield family losing their lives (1). In 1872 there were three breweries – Griffith’s, the Lichfield Brewery Co. and Smith’s on Beacon St (the City Brewery and the Trent Valley Brewery came later). Mounsden and Sons was a wine and spirit business, according to Mr Jackson, one of the oldest in the city. There was Mr Nicholls, a photographer who also had a fancy goods shop on the site of what was to become the Regal Cinema (but has since been the Kwik Save and a nightclub, with plans to turn it back into the Regal Cinema again!).

Regal Cinema Lichfield. Late 1960s? Taken from Gareth Thomas’s Pinterest site http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/old-photos-lichfield/

A little shop in Tamworth St was kept by the Misses Wilcox who sold fancy goods and toys. Mr Jackson remembers that the shop was well below the pavement (why would this be?) and stocked everything from pins to rocking horses! He recalls buying yards of elastic for making catapults, along with marbles, tops and hoops.

Mr Young, a whitesmith, lived in the old Frog Lane School House and his workshop was in the same street. There were several ironmongers including Mr Crosskey on Market St, Sheriff of Lichfield in 1863 and Mayor in 1868. Next to the old Victoria Nursing Home at 15 Sandford St was Mr Tricklebank’s tin-ware business.

On Market St, was Mr Caldwell’s hardware business (Frisby’s Boot and Shoe store in 1945).  Over on Church St, Mr Platt made rope, twine and string (Mr Jackson believes he was the only one in the district at the time) and C W Bailey had an agricultural implement depot.  Blacksmiths were in demand – Gallimore on Lombard St, Mr Salt on Sandford St, Mr Sandland on Beacon St (later taken over by Mr Goodwin who, as you may remember from a previous post featuring Mr Jackson’s memories of Beacon St, was said to have shod a dancing bear).  Apparently, the smithy on Beacon St was the oldest in the city, dating back to the mid 1800s.

I believe that this building on Lombard St was once a blacksmith’s forge.

Wheel wrights producing traps, carts and wagons and well as the wheels to put on them could be found on Church St (Mr Davis) and Beacon Hill (Mr Horton).

This advert for John Simms shows that at some point the business moved to Church St. Image taken from Gareth Thomas’s http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/

John Simms had his mineral water works on Stowe St opposite St Chad’s School, and Mr Jackson remembers that when he was a pupil at this school in 1869, nearly every other cottage in Stowe St sold bottles of home made herb beer during the summer (was this actual proper beer or more like the ginger beer of Enid Blyton books?). Perhaps of even more interest for the little ones were the sweet shops – ‘Suckey’ Blakeman and ‘Suckey’ Perry in Market St and Mr Giles on Gresley Row with his ‘super’ toffee nobs.  When Mr Jackson moved up to the Minors School on the corner of St John St and Bore St, he recalls taking it in turns with his fellow students to fetch not just mere ‘super’ but ‘luxury’ toffee nobs from Miss Hicken’s (and later Miss Hobby’s) shop in St John St opposite the back entrance to the school.

Cities are constantly changing places. Even though my Lichfield memories only stretch back as far as the beginning of the 21st century (with the exception of one family day trip to Beacon Park in the 1980s) a lot has changed even in that short space of time with shops and businesses coming and, as is all too often the case these days, going. Just last week the Greenhill Chippy shut. A couple of years ago my friend and I were heading to the Duke of York when we got talking to a man who was passing through Lichfield on a long journey he was undertaking on foot. He didn’t explain why, and for some reason it didn’t seem right to ask him. He hadn’t any money and didn’t ask for any, but did accept a portion of chips from the Greenhill fish shop. I often think of him, and what his story may have been when passing by there. Anyway, my point is that places have memories attached to them and I think it’s important to record them, just as Mr Jackson did. There’s some great stuff being shared on the Lichfield Facebook group and some wonderful old photos on Gareth Thomas’s blog. For a much more in depth look at the shops and businesses of Lichfield, I know that there is a great book “Trades of a City: Lichfield Shops and Residents from 1850″ by JP Gallagher, (although having only borrowed copies, if anyone can point me in the direction of where to purchase my own, I’d be grateful!). I think it would be brilliant to do some walks where instead of being led by a guide, people have a stroll around the streets together sharing memories and stories with each other. Until then, if anyone can identify any of the locations in Mr Jackson’s reminisces please let me know!

(1) This is a sad but interesting story in itself and I will cover it in a separate post.

Source: Lichfield Mercury 8th June 1945

Heads Up

First it was the Burton’s foundation stones, then the cockerels and now two heads above Oxfam on Market St. Have I been walking around Lichfield with my eyes closed for the last 7 years?

I have discovered from the listed building description that the correct term is corbel heads. I’ve taken a close up of each of them.

Corbel head on left, looking at building

 

Corbel Head , on right looking at building

Information on these heads is pretty thin on the ground. The listed building description tells us that the building is late C16th, does this mean that the heads date back to this period too? I’m not quite sure whether the one on the right is supposed to be sad or asleep (or as someone on twitter suggested ‘three sheets to the wind’).  Do they represent some sort of  old joke or story or moral? The building was a pub from at least 1793 (first record) until it closed in 1962.

There is a photo of The Castle on the Staffs Pastrack website, taken in the early part of the C20th. One peculiar thing, although this might just be me, is that the head on the right doesn’t look the same.  I think on the old photo it looks like he has a beard but he looks like he’s had a shave since! On the subject of the old photo, what is that circular object between the pub windows, beneath the lamp? The thing that looks a bit like an anachronistic satellite dish.

It’s just occured to me as I’m typing this that I could pop in & ask in the Oxfam shop if anyone knows anything. Of course, if there are any corbel head experts out there,  please let me know your thoughts!

Sources:
Information on The Castle, taken from ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield’ by John Shaw

Gone for a Burton on Market St

I have been shopping in Market St countless times before, yet today I noticed something I hadn’t before. A foundation stone in black marble, with an inscription This stone laid by Stanley Howard Burton 1938. “That’s quite interesting”, I thought and walked on. I got as far as Cross Keys and then stopped. I had my camera with me, why hadn’t I taken a photo? Who was Stanley Howard Burton? A combination of curiosity and conscience got the better of me. I had to have another look and take a photo. On doing so, I noticed that there were actually two stones.

Arnold James Burton had laid the stone on the opposite side. Two Burtons – brothers or father and son? Burtons…..hmmm….

A google search didn’t show up anything for Lichfield specifically, but I did find a Flickr stream devoted to the Burton menswear empire’s deco buildings, which shows similar stones to those in Market St and confirmed that this building was once home to a branch of what was once the world’s largest tailoring store. It seems that members of the Burton family often laid the foundation stone at their new buildings.  In Lichfield’s case it was two of the sons of business founder Montague Burton.

The history of the Burton family and their business is interesting.  Montague Burton arrived in the country as a 15 year old Lithuanian named Meshe Osinsky. I’ve read on the company’s website that he adopted the surname Burton after he spent a couple of hours at Burton on Trent railway station. A great summary of Mr Burton Snr’s life can be found on the Moving Here website and also on the BBC local history website for Leeds .

I’m glad I went back for a second look at that stone on Market St. Now I’ve taken the photos I might go the full monty and add them to the Burton Deco Flickr group.

Edit: There are some photographs on the Flickr stream of Burton buildings in Walsall & Wolverhampton, with stylised lions & elephants. Apparently, there are Burton buildings in Sutton, Stafford, Birmingham and other local towns and cities so keep your eyes open!

Sources:

1.http://www.movinghere.org.uk/galleries/histories/jewish/working_lives/montague_burton1.htm#