Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

Trouble at t’mill

Unlike the fulling mill built on Leomansley Brook in 1790, which only seems to have lasted for a hundred years or so, the nearby mill on the Trunkfield Brook was part of the landscape for a long, long time.

Up until the nineteenth century it seems it was known as Sandford Mill, but at some point became known as Trunkfields. Owned by St John’s hospital, it first appears in records in 1294, and again in 1658 when the miller got into trouble for encroaching on the highway when re-building it. Cartography wise, the first map I can see that shows the mill (just as a symbol), is the 1775 Yates one. In 1853 the Conduit Land Trustees rented it out and converted it to steam power and shortly afterwards was apparently used as a bone mill. Jame Meacham gave up the mill in 1872 and it fell into disuse. In 1883 it was suggested as a potential site for a small pox and infectious diseases hospital .The property owners and inhabitants in the area were not happy and came up with the following list of reasons why the site was, in their opinion,  ‘in every way disadvantageous, not only to the immediate neighbourhood but to the whole city’.

1. The road past the pool was the only access road to a good deal of field property in the area.

2. A public footpath, much frequented, leading to the Birmingham Rd goes within a few yards of the building.

3. There are no less than eighty homes on the Walsall Rd, with a population of around 480 and there are other properties close by including the vicarage and the cottages (presumably those on what is now Christchurch Lane).

4. The site is in the midst of a large and respectable population.

5. There is a prospect of a considerable increase in the number of houses.

6. The prevalent wind on this side of the City of Lichfield is that which blows almost direct from the Trunkfield Pool to the city.

7. The site is notoriously damp and unhealthy and thoroughly unsuited for a hospital of any description

8.Many of the cottagers are in the habit of going to the pool for their water supply.

9. Trunkfield Pool is the only public place for skating within the precincts of the city.

In the end, there was no hospital on the site of Trunkfields Mill. Instead, it became a farm (and people carried on skating there for some years – an advert in the Lichfield Mercury, February 2 1917 carried an advert that simply said ‘Skating!!! Skating!!! at Trunkfields Pool, Walsall Road, Lichfield. You’d think people would have been more wary after horrific accidents like this in London 1867).

There's not much left to suggest there was a mill here although there are sluice gates along the brook

There’s not much left to suggest there was a mill here although there are sluice gates along the brook

On the Burntwood Family History website there is a great photograph of Mr and Mrs David Blair (see here) who came from Scotland to Trunkfields Farm in 1890. There is a snippet in the Lichfield Mercury about a not very neighbourly spat between David Blair and fellow farmer Edward Thomas Sankey of Sandfields Farm in November 1895, when the latter summoned the former for assault. According to Sankey he was making his way home via Trunkfields when Blair stopped him and told him he was trespassing. Sankey said it was a public highway and Blair apparently took hold of his coat and collar and pushed him. Then Mrs Blair came out and told Sankey to go home via Mr Hollier’s field. Sankey refused and Blair hit him in the face and threatened to throw him into the mill pond. Blair accused Sankey of being drunk and said if he had pushed him, as he was accused of doing, he would have fallen down. Another farmer, Joseph Standley was called as a witness.  He had seen part of the dispute and was ‘so amused that he ‘nearly burst himself with laughing’, although he did support Mr Blair’s assertion that Sankey was drunk and hadn’t been hit or pushed by him. The case was dismissed and Sankey ordered to pay the costs.

Several sources, including the county history and local HER records record the mill pool being backfilled in 1930. However, this seems to be a bit at odds with an article in the Lichfield Mercury on 14th February 1947, which reported that Mr Saxton, the owner of Trunkfield Mill Pond, had been thanked by the Lichfield City Council health committee  for agreeing that the pond could be used for controlled tipping without rent but given back to him when filled in. I’m sure the residents weren’t quite as thankful – what about the detrimental effect on the respectable population and their winter skating?

Apparently some of the mill/farm buildings remained until the 1980s/90s, which is before my time in Lichfield but there must be plenty that do remember. What I do recall is that until recently there was a derelict modern-ish property on the site, known as Blair House (presumably after David Blair and his family). This has now been demolished with new houses currently being built on the site.

Took me a while to work out what was going on with the chimney

Took me a while to work out what was going on with the chimney

There were objections to this, based on the fact that vehicular approach to the new houses was a narrow lane used by children walking to school. I suspect this must also have been the lane that the protesters against the isolation hospital were referring to. It’s now been given a (new?) name which turns out to be Halfpenny Lane, the road I was looking for back in October last year.  Now split into two by the realignment of the Walsall Road in the 1830s (the other part is known as Middle Lane) it led to Christchurch Lane (the original Walsall Road) for at least two hundred years, if not longer.

Found a Halfpenny

Found a Halfpenny

I had intended to walk down this lane, but it was blocked off due to the building work and so I was forced to negotiate the labyrinth that is the Walsall Rd estate. I eventually found my way out and was rewarded for my efforts by the discovery of an old metal gatepost in some shrubbery near to the old Conduit Lands Pumping Station cottage on the Walsall Road which may be a left over relic from those days. More info on the pumping station on Brownhillls Bob’s blog here.

I was chuffed to spot this. I am very easily pleased.

I was chuffed to spot this. I am very easily pleased.

I also saw some graffiti on the side of a house. I don’t condone it but I do confess to being a little intrigued…..

PR Graffiti

Question mark?

 

Sources:

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

http://csweb.bournemouth.ac.uk/aip/online/C/west%20midlands/CSTAFFS.pdf

http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/environment/eLand/planners-developers/HistoricEnvironment/Extensive-Urban-Survey/LichfieldEUSReportFinal.pdf

Perspexive

This morning, I went to the dentist. On the way home I walked past St John’s Hospital. With the sun shining, I decided to pop in and allow myself a minute to take in the lovely surroundings and the calm atmosphere of the courtyard, before heading home.

At least that was my intention. As hospitable as ever, someone in the courtyard came over to welcome me, and invited me to have a look around the chapel. Never one to miss an opportunity to be nosey, I accepted with thanks.

I have been inside once before, but that visit was dominated by standing in front of John Piper’s striking window for the first time. Today, I sat on a back pew and found myself next to a perspex window. A small sticker told me that the stonework behind the perspex was the remains of a Norman water stoup. I understand that this would once have held holy water, into which those entering the chapel could dip their fingers, and make the sign of the cross. Apparently, many stoups were destroyed during the reformation but whether this is the case here I don’t know.  As the chapel has been heavily restored and altered over the centuries, I was delighted to have this chance encounter with part of the older fabric of the chapel.   Unfortunately, as I hadn’t anticipated there being many photo opportunities on a trip to the dentists, I had no camera. But the chapel is open everyday until 5pm, so if you can, please do go and take a look yourself, and enjoy visiting the grounds at the same time.

This got me thinking about the idea of layers of history within buildings, where generations of people have made their mark, by accident or by design, for better or for worse.  When I was volunteering at the Guildhall, someone told me I could get out using the back door. It was news to me that there was a back door but once through it, I made the even more exciting  discovery that  traces of the older building were still in evidence. For example, whilst the main hall and the front of the Guildhall date to the mid 1800s, the blocked window on the photograph below is thought to date to the 16thc.

Brickwork from different periods, round the back of the Guildhall

Another couple of examples to be going on with – what’s gone on here with all the different brickwork at this house in The Close?

This metal….thing, above a restaurant on Bird St, must have played some role in the building’s past, but what?

And when we’re talking about layers of history, should we also consider the present and future of buildings? I notice that the Angel Croft hotel has unsurprisingly made its annual appearance on the English Heritage At Risk register…..

Sources

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=37864

Hospital Ward

In 1781, John Snape carried out a census of Lichfield, making a list of the different wards of the city in the process. The wards are as follows: Bacon St (now Beacon St), Bird St, Sandford St, Sandford St below the water, St John’s St, St John’s St above the bars, Sadler St (now Market St), Bore St, Wade St, Dam St, Tamworth St, Lombard St, Stow St and Greenhill.

I think that these are the wards depicted by the flags hanging from the ceiling of the Guildhall, discussed here in my previous post. Now that I’ve finally made it back into the Guildhall to check which flag corresponds with which ward, I’m going to take each one in turn, trying to discover the significance of the design on each flag. Some I’m pretty sure of, others I’m really not (I’m talking about you Sandford St below the water ward!)

 

Photo from Ell Brown via flickr

 I’m starting with the flag that represents St John’s ward. Not only is it my favourite of the banners, it’s also seasonal with the feast of St John’s (or Midsummer’s Day) on 24th June. St John St gets its name from The Hospital of St John The Baptist (the place with the chimmneys!). The design from the flag is also on the board outside St John’s chapel, but what does it represent? The yellow flowers must be St John’s Wort, associated both with the saint and midsummer. What are the flowers growing around though?  Well, it’s taken a lot of googling but I think that it’s St Anthony’s Cross (also known as the Cross of Tau), often associated with St Francis. This possibly explains its inclusion, as the site of the Franciscan Friary lies within this ward . Part of the old Friary wall can still be seen on St John St.

Please feel free to join in with the speculation on this and any of the other flags that follow!

Photo of St John’s board from Ell Brown’s Lichfield Group photo set on his flickr stream, included with thanks.

Hospitality in Lichfield

One of the places I really wanted to see during the Lichfield Heritage weekend was St John’s Hospital. On my way I bumped into someone I know. ‘I’m just off to St John’s Hospital’, I said ‘Oh where’s that?’, was the reply. As soon as I told her it was the place with all the chimneys, she of course knew exactly where I meant!

Looking back through the entrance from the courtyard. I'm normally peeping through in the other direction!

Beyond the entrance is a lovely courtyard, where we were met by one of the residents who told us about the history of the hospital, which you can read more about on the St John’s website.  The Master’s house is now a Georgian building and you can see a drawing of it circa 1833 on Staffordshire Pasttrack. We were told today that some of the wooden beams inside came from galleons. I wonder if that’s true or just a story? I have done a quick search and it seems like quite a few old buildings claim to have beams reclaimed from ships.

Side of St John's with Masters House in the background

From the courtyard, we went to have a look around the chapel, which is the oldest of all of the buildings here.The most striking feature is the stained glass window by John Piper. I think I was suprised that this was so modern (it was created in 1984).

Clockwise from top left, the four corners represent the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke & John

 

There are stones embedded in the top of the altar, collected by a former Master whilst in Jerusalem & the surrounding area.

After leaving the chapel we visited the accomodation of one of the residents, which was lovely & incredibly peaceful bearing in mind the windows are looking out onto St John St!  On the tour, I overheard someone say that the chimneys were the oldest domestic chimneys in the country. They are blocked off from the rooms now and I wonder when they were last used? Why do you always think of questions after the event?!

Finally, we were invited to have tea & cake. And then some more cake! One of the residents told us, ‘ We’re keeping up the tradition of hospitality!’. It’s true – on our visit we were made to feel incredibly welcome. As you can see I forgot to take any photos of the courtyard or indeed the aforementioned chimneys (I may have been distracted by the cake…). However, the grounds are open to the public, so you can go and have a look for yourself!

Edit 2/10/2011:
I came across a bit of an interesting snippet about Tudor nepotism relating to St John’s. In his book, ‘Note on a History of the Hospital of St John’s’, Harry Baylis says that the hospital lost none of its possessions in the reformation, as the Master at the time was the brother of Rowland Lee who officiated at the marriage of Henry VIII & Ann Boleyn, and later became the Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield. Wonder if this is true or not?