Encrypted

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.

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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.

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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

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Crypt Tamworth

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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…)

Sources:

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

http://tamworthtimehikes.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/the-crypt/

 

A Study in Orange

The fascination for all things Fisherwick Hall continues. Recently, I discovered that the Marquess of Donegal’s Orangery once sported a rather fine portico supported by four carved pillars. Although the Orangery itself is still miraculously standing in the grounds of what is now Woodhouse Farm, despite being struck by lightning and used as a cow shed for decades, the portico has disappeared. We know it was still there in July 1935, when the Lichfield Mercury ran their, ‘The Beauty that is England’ feature on local country houses past and present, and included both a description and a photograph of it. However, it was gone by January 1947 when an article by ‘A Contributor’ suggested that the portico had been made use of at Moor Hall and Shenstone Court before eventually being purchased by the Lichfield Corporation in the 1930s to mark the entrance to the public gardens on the site of the old Friary opposite what is now the Library and (not for much longer sadly) the Record Office. However, although the portico at the Friary is thought to have come from Shenstone Court I think its highly unlikely that it started out at Fisherwick.

Much more convincing is the detective work carried out by Patti Wills.  Patti contacted me last week to say she knew of a farmhouse in Elford with a portico. Although locally it had been suggested that the structure originated at Elford Hall, Patti noticed the similarity between the portico at Upfields Farm and the old photograph of the Fisherwick Orangery portico. What’s more, the listed building description for Upfields says, “The porch is reputed to have come from Fisherwick Hall (demolished) by Capability Brown”. I think Patti is right but have a look below and see what you think.

Upfields Farm, Elford. Photograph used with kind permission of Patti Wills

The Orangery, Woodhouse Farm, part of Fisherwick Estate taken from the Lichfield Mercury

The Orangery, Woodhouse Farm, part of Fisherwick Estate taken from the Lichfield Mercury

I’m very grateful to Patti for this information and so pleased that another piece of the Fisherwick jigsaw puzzle has been found.  It’s not over yet though! It’s said that a staircase from Fisherwick was taken to a house on Beacon Street known as Ardmore, solid mahogany doors were made use of at 15, Bird Street and various bits and bobs can be found in Tamworth, including monogrammed wrought iron gates at Bole Hall On a slightly more macabre note, the location of the remains of the Marquess of Donegall and other members of his clan is also a mystery, after the family mausoleum was destroyed during work on St Michael’s church in the mid nineteenth century. The Fisherwick treasure hunt continues….

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Parishes: Bolehall and Glascote’, A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 4: Hemlingford Hundred (1947), pp. 248-249.

Multi Story Huts

A while ago I wrote about the old scout hut in Leomansley, triggered by the chance discovery of an old girl guides badge in Moggs Lane (does anyone call it by that name these days I wonder? I’m going to try and resurrect it – it’s much better than calling it ‘the lane that runs past Martin Heath hall towards the football pitches’). The hut is believed to have originally been a cadet hut, from one of the first world war training camps on Cannock Chase.  There is a fantastic section on the Staffordshire Pasttrack website regarding the training camps, including a description of the huts themselves. After the war, many were sold off to towns and villages for use as village halls, workshops, and here in Lichfield, a youth club.

Colin Halfpenny sent me two photographs featuring his father, Frank Halfpenny, and other civic dignitaries welcoming the Duke of Gloucester to the hut in Leomansley in 1939. At the time it was being used at the headquarters of the Christ Church Boys Club on the Walsall Rd but was eventually taken over by the 6th Lichfield Scout Group. The hut was replaced by a new building in 2009.

Cllr Frank Halfpenny (the Sheriff of Lichfield), Alderman Tayler (the Mayor) and the Chairman of the Youth Club Committee stand on the steps of the hut with the Duke of Gloucester in 1939.

The Mayor, the Duke of Gloucester, Mrs Ballard, Mr A.N.Ballard (the Town Clerk), the Sheriff (Mr Halfpenny), the Sheriff`s Lady (Mrs Mary Halfpenny)  and the Mayoress

I have also started to read about Brindley Heath, where the abandoned huts of the military hospital were taken over by the West Cannock Colliery Company, providing homes for miners and their families until the 1950s.

Imagine the stories held within the walls of these simple wooden buildings – those of thousands of men, who called them home (possibly for some their last) as they trained for life, and in far too many cases death, in the trenches abroad.  Once peace was restored, there were new chapters in the stories of the huts themselves, with each one put to a new use amongst a different community.  As the centenary of the first world war approaches, I wonder if any of them are still around in our towns and villages, or have they all now been replaced?

With thanks to Colin Halfpenny for the photographs.

Edit: One of the huts may have been used at Snibston in Leicestershire, as a temporary residence for the Vicar whilst he waited for his new vicarage to be built. Also it appears that the memorial hall and men’s club at Glascote, Tamworth was also a former army hut.

 

Blue Sunday

My second ‘starting off at pub, and exploring the surrounding area’ type walk of the week, but this time with real life swans with just the one neck.

The sunny beer garden at the Red Lion was busy and I couldn’t help but feel that those who chose to remain inside the pub were missing out.  They were, and it wasn’t just the just the sun but also the wonderful sight of a pair of swans gliding down the canal with their eight cygnets. At one point the young ones were startled by a barking dog on one of the moored boats and darted back to huddle around one of their parents.

We began our walk by crossing the Lichfield Road Bridge (aka the Tummy Bridge in my house) to get to the towpath on the opposite side of the canal to the Red Lion. The next bridge along is the Hopwas School Bridge. As the name suggests it is near to the village school, named after founder Thomas Barnes. A lovely example of the local lad made good story, Thomas is said to have been abandoned as a baby, and discovered in a barn by villagers who gave him a surname to represent his humble beginnings. Educated and cared for by the villagers, Thomas became a successful London merchant. Had I walked a little to the right of the school, I would have seen the original schoolmaster’s house with a plaque reading ‘This house was built at the charge of Mr Thomas Barnes native of this place and a citizen of London in the year of our Lord 1717 for the dwelling of a person to teach the children of this village to read English’.

Instead, we kept on walking under the bridge and along the tow path. Something I did wonder about but couldn’t think of any explanation for at the time was the small door in the bridge itself. After doing a bit of post-walk googling it seems it might be a storage place for stop planks, used to block off part of the canal when maintenance work needs to be carried out. I think.

There was also some machinery on the other side of the tow path that looked interesting but again, I’m not quite sure of its purpose.

This, however, I did recognise to be one of the well documented pillboxes that stand in this area, defences against an invasion that thankfully never came.

Growing alongside the pillbox was a hint of what was to come in those infamous and ancient woods about which I’ve heard so much but seen so little, only ever passing by in the car. I’m pleased to say that Hopwas Woods lived up to my expectations, with a display of bluebells that put even my beloved Leomansley Wood in the shade. I attempted to capture it in photos, although they could never do it justice.

From then on I saw blue everywhere – the boats, the sky over the distant towers of Tamworth, a piece of pottery by the side of the canal and, after a big lunch and this short walk, a hammock at the water’s edge that looked very inviting indeed….

 

Dig Days of Summer

Dig the Abbey is a community archaeology project, running over two consecutive summers, where volunteers (many of them local people) are excavating the site of Polesworth Abbey alongside professional archaeologists.

I went along to a Dig the Abbey 2011 tour last summer, not knowing what to expect. I found it so interesting that I was really looking forward to going again this year & took some friends, to see what kind of new discoveries had been made. We weren’t disappointed. Despite the rain, community archaeologist Tim Upson-Smith gave us a great tour of the site and answered all of our many, many questions (they weren’t just about just about the dig at Polesworth but they did all relate to archaeology!).

Amongst other things, we saw in situ medieval floor tiles, a medieval toilet (and learned what a useful find this is!) and a vessel (on which you could see the thumbprints of the potter that crafted it) lifted from the earth just that day. We learned a little about the procedure for the discovery of human remains and how they are dated. We heard about how the discovery of some structures in the trenches has answered questions about how the Abbey would have once looked, but how the discovery of others has created yet more questions.   We were made really nice cups of tea while we waited for the rain to give over a little!  We were so enthralled we forgot to take any photos! Luckily, the dig has its own regularly updated website, with photographs of the finds, maps of the trenches and news reports.

We’re definitely going back again towards the end of the dig. It hardly needs to be said but, if you have an interest in history or archaeology, I highly recommend going and taking a tour yourself. It took us around 30 minutes to get there from Lichfield (but that included unintentionally taking the scenic route through Tamworth town centre!).

Tours run every day of the dig at 2.15pm (1) The final tours will be on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th of September, to coincide with the Open Heritage weekend (2). For more information, visit www.digtheabbey.co.uk

Notes:

(1) Monday to Friday (until 7th September) Saturday (25th August and 1st September)

(2) Please note that the heritage weekend here in Lichfield takes place on 22nd -23rd September, to coincide with the Johnson Birthday celebrations. I don’t want to confuse anyone!

 

A Cock & Bull Story

 

Somehow I’d not spotted these cockerels on Tamworth St before! The cockerels (or chickens as I originally thought they were!) reminded me of some carved cow heads that BrownhillsBob spotted on an old Lichfield butchers shop a few months previous (the old Savers shop) and posted on his great #365daysofbiking blog .

The keystone says that the building was built in 1865.  16 years later the 1881 census for Tamworth St shows the following household:

Name  Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability

 Henry WELCH Head M Male 54 Rugeley, Stafford, England Poulterer  

 Elizabeth WELCH Wife M Female 56 Harefield, Middlesex, England    

 Louisa WELCH Dau U Female 25 Lichfield School Mistress  

 Arthur WELCH Son U Male 20 Lichfield Poulterers Assistant  

 Alice Mary WELCH Dau U Female 19 Lichfield Dressmaker  

 Elizabeth WELCH Dau U Female 17 Lichfield Pupil Teacher  

 Mary Ann WELCH Dau U Female 15 Lichfield Pupil Teacher  

A poultry dealer on Tamworth St! I think there’s a good chance Mr Henry Welch and his family may have been the occupants of this building? By the way, the rear of the building is also interesting as there is a cart entrance.

Roger Jones (@ziksby on Twitter) very kindly did a bit of investigating on the great historical directories website but could only find general butchers on Tamworth St. However, Henry Welch does turn up as a ‘grocer & poulterer’ in an 1870 directory on Market St, Lichfield. So, it seems at some point between then and 1881 he moved the business to Tamworth St. Did he add the cockerels at this time?

By coincidence, earlier that day I had a look at the mosaic on the landing at Lichfield Library.

Information alongside says:

“This mosaic was rescued by the Lichfield Civic Society in 1985 from the stallriser of 13 Tamworth St. It was restored by Adam Cecconi of Cecconi & Son, Small Heath Birmingham with monies granted by the Swinfen Broun Charitable Trust and is on loan to the college.”

I also found a couple of old adverts for butchers on Tamworth St in a January 1891 edition of the Lichfield Mercury.

HP Craddock Family Butcher, Tamworth St, Lichfield
Fresh Meat daily. Pickled tongue always on hand.

Quantrills Est. 1872
2 Tamworth St, Lichfield
Pork pie & sausage establishment. A great display of hams, porkpies & sausages which surpass any in the city for quality & cheapness. Pure leaf lard, pickled pork etc.
All orders promptly attended to.

Richard Bratby (@RichardBratby) also got in touch via twitter to say that he had seen a photograph of Quantrills and it was on the corner of Bakers Lane, but demolished when the Three Spires shopping centre was built. Richard also said that the photograph is in Heritage Centre collection, so I’ll have to pay them a visit.

I think it would be really interesting to see if any of the other shopfronts & buildings in Lichfield City centre still have clues to the trades that were carried on in them (I think I already found an old branch of Burtons!). If anyone does find any, please get in touch.